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Brown: Red light, green light, lower the boom

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Testimony ended Friday in the red-light camera trial of former city payroller John Bills, but not before a delay while U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall sentenced a Chicago man convicted of running a violent jewelry heist ring.

With nothing better to do, Bills sat through the last part of the sentencing hearing for Palo Brown, 34, who prosecutors described as the “mastermind of a multi-week campaign of armed violence” in 2012.

Scary dude, Palo Brown, especially with a gun in his hand, from what I could gather.

But what I found especially interesting was how Kendall patiently listened to Brown’s rambling request for leniency, then didn’t blink while hammering the repeat offender with a 31-year prison sentence.

Bills seemed to be paying close attention, which was good, because I expect he’ll be standing up there before Kendall soon enough.

That’ll be up to the jury, which should begin deliberations after closing arguments Monday.

The trial fizzled to its conclusion with Bills electing not to testify in his own defense.

That was no surprise. Defendants rarely do. But it’s always a little disappointing.

OPINION

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Defense attorney Nishay Sanan put four witnesses on the stand, none of whom advanced the tantalizing suggestion Sanan offered during the trial’s opening that the secret payments prosecutors allege Bills received for steering business to Redflex Traffic Systems really went to others better positioned to put in the fix.

Instead, jurors heard from Bills’ current wife, Jackie, who testified her husband earned cash — up to $15,000 at a time — from selling autographed sports memorabilia at conventions. She said he sold an autographed baseball from President George Bush just last year. (She never specified which Bush.)

Earlier in the day, defense lawyers said they would introduce photos of Bills posing with political and sports celebrities, including Bush and baseball star Alex Rodriguez.

The idea was to show Bills, who moonlighted as a White Sox clubhouse attendant until 2008, had plenty of access to tickets and sports memorabilia, which Sanan has offered as an alternative explanation for cash Bills had at his disposal.

Two Bills’ friends gave similar accounts of him selling tickets for cash.

City official John Botica said he accompanied Bills to the 2008 Super Bowl in Arizona, where Bills claimed to sell extra tickets for $11,000 cash.

Retired city official Tom Ryan said he flew to Boston at Bills’ behest in 2004 to sell some World Series tickets for $10,000.

Before prosecutors rested their case against Bills, veteran IRS agent Paul Ponzo told the jury Bills did not report on his tax returns any cash payments from Redflex’s Chicago representative Martin O’Malley.

O’Malley previously testified Bills arranged for him to get the job, which positioned him to pass along at least $557,000 in cash to Bills and pay many of his other expenses, even buying an Arizona condo for his use.

None of that appeared on Bills’ tax returns, but neither did any income from the sports memorabilia or tickets, Ponzo said.

Bills received $47,410 in cash between 2005 and 2012 from Gold Coast Tickets, a ticket broker service where Bills was a regular.

In addition to Cubs, Sox and Bears tickets, Bills also trafficked in concert tickets for Barbara Streisand, the Spice Girls, Elton John and Billy Joel.

Bills’ older sister, Debra McMahon, testified she and her father took a trip to Phoenix in 2008 to “see my brother’s condo.”

That was damaging to the defense because Bills maintains it was O’Malley’s condo, not his.

“Did he tell you it was his condo?” U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon asked.

“Yes,” she said.

O’Malley is indeed the owner of record, and he paid for it. But the previous owner testified Friday it was Bills and a woman he introduced as his wife who came to see the condo and struck a handshake deal to buy it on behalf of O’Malley, who he identified as his father-in-law.

O’Malley is not his father-in-law, just a guy he knew from their Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Before sentencing Palo Brown to 31 years in prison, which is real time in the federal penal system, Judge Kendall took a few minutes to tell him off for the harm he caused his victims by violating their sense of security.

I trust she knows that those who take part in public corruption have a similarly insidious effect.

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