Karen Finley did whatever it took to help her firm land Chicago’s red-light camera contracts.
The Redflex Traffic Systems executive hired the buddy of a city worker. She signed off on their fancy vacations at the company’s expense. She rigged the system, deleted her emails and buried her head in the sand.
But Thursday, she finally admitted to her role in a bribe conspiracy that could net her as many as five years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall set a sentencing hearing for Feb. 18 for Finley, 55. She and her attorney, Michael Monico, left Chicago’s federal courthouse without commenting Thursday.
Finley, of Arizona, led Redflex as its CEO from 2005 until February 2013. She had served earlier as its vice president of operations. She faced 12 counts of fraud and four counts of bribery in an indictment filed last year.
That indictment against Finley, retired city worker John Bills and his pal Martin O’Malley alleged that Redflex officials paid Bills $570,000 cash and gave him perks, including an Arizona condo and a Mercedes in exchange for Bills’ steering of contracts, that grew to $124 million, to Redflex, helping make Chicago the nation’s red-light camera capital.
Bills’ trial is set for January. O’Malley also pleaded guilty in December to a bribe conspiracy. Sources said last fall that O’Malley had been cooperating with federal prosecutors for some time.
Finley agreed to hire O’Malley at Redflex to make Bills happy, according to her plea agreement. The job included lucrative pay bumps for the sale of red light cameras, even though it wasn’t his job to sell them to Chicago, it said. Finley also worked with Bills through O’Malley to rig the system to win city contracts and told others she was deleting her emails to avoid detection.
She signed off on reimbursements in December 2003 for airfare to Phoenix, car rentals, meals and golf that O’Malley purchased for himself, Bills and a friend during a five-day period. And she signed off on a reimbursement for Bills to stay at the Biltmore Hotel in 2004.
Finley didn’t want to know whether O’Malley was passing any of his pay from Redflex on to Bills, according to her plea agreement.
“Finley suspected that O’Malley was passing money to Bills but she willfully avoided learning the truth,” the document states.
O’Malley allegedly funneled much of the $2 million he was paid by Redflex to Bills, who got a $177,000 condo, Super Bowl tickets, golf outings, a boat, his children’s school fees and even his girlfriend’s mortgage and his divorce attorney’s bill paid by Redflex, the feds say.
The firm’s contract was canceled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013, after allegations about the bribery scheme were first published by the Chicago Tribune.