Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he “indicted and convicted” the red-light camera vendor at the center of a burgeoning bribery scandal long before there were federal indictments — by cancelling Redflex Traffic Systems’ city contract and barring the company from competing for a speed camera deal.
One day after the scandal got bigger with the indictment of ousted Redflex CEO Karen Finley, Emanuel claimed credit for being a step ahead of federal prosecutors and for providing pivotal information that culminated in the indictments.
“In February of 2013, I issued the first indictment of the red-light camera operator because I fired them. I inherited `em and I fired them. That was the first indictment. And I convicted them because they no longer have the contract,” Emanuel told reporters at an unrelated news conference at the visitors center at Northerly Island.
“And the basis of the case that was just brought by the U.S. Attorney’s office was in good portion . . . based on the information we provided through the inspector general to the U.S. Attorney.”
The mayor maintained that he also has taken steps to address the unexplained spike that generated at least 16,000 questionable red-light camera tickets at a dozen Chicago intersections.
Acknowledging that the system has to be “100 percent right” to be trusted, City Hall has offered to review those violations and refund fines if the tickets were issued in error.
“We not only changed operators. We changed safeguards and policies in place to make sure that it’s being operated fairly, honestly and to give people the confidence that, any mistakes done from the past” will be corrected, Emanuel said.
“The company that was doing it has been fired. And there have been changes put in place to make sure there aren’t mistakes and the onus of proof is on the company.”
But what about the tickets still being thrown for a yellow light that an administrative hearing officer ruled was too short?
“That’s happened before and that’s gonna continue to happen because there’s a process in place to make sure that, if there’s a mistake, people aren’t wrongly ticketed,” Emanuel said.
“And I would add, [red-light cameras have] also reduced accidents by 30 percent.”
Earlier this week, the bribery scandal that cost Redflex its mother lode of a Chicago contract got bigger.
It happened after Finley, the Arizona company’s ousted CEO, was indicted along with longtime city worker John Bills and Bills’ longtime friend Martin O’Malley, a Redflex consultant.
Bills was charged with taking bribes to help Redflex win the city’s lucrative camera contract. O’Malley was accused of funneling the kickbacks to Bills.
The indictment alleged that Redflex officials, including Finley, paid Bills $570,000 cash and gave him perks, including an Arizona condo and a Mercedes in exchange for Bills’ steering contracts that grew to $124 million to Redflex, helping make Chicago the nation’s red light camera capital.
Finley was Redflex’s chief executive from 2005 through February last year, and its vice president of operations from 2001.
She was accused of attending a 2003 meeting at the John Hancock Center when Bills gave Redflex the inside dope on how to win contracts.
After Bills told Redflex it was “time to make good,” Finley allegedly hired O’Malley as a contractor so that he could pass bribes on to Bills, then deleted emails and lied on disclosure forms to cover up the scheme.
A city employee for 32 years, Bills served as a member of the red light camera contract evaluation committee while moonlighting as a clubhouse assistant with the Chicago White Sox before he retired in 2011.
He allegedly sabotaged the contract bids of a rival firm, arranging seating so that contract evaluation committee members he knew would support Redflex voted first, placing pressure on members voting later to back Redflex.
In return, his Super Bowl tickets, golf outings, a laptop, a boat, children’s school fees, a retirement party — even his girlfriend’s mortgage and his own divorce attorney — were all likely paid for with Redflex cash, according to a complaint unsealed in May.