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Officials move to yank pension of key figure in Redflex scandal

John Bills after being sentenced at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on corruption charges related to the Redflex red light camera program on Monday. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Officials with Chicago’s biggest public retirement system are taking steps to pull the pension of John Bills, the ex-city of Chicago official convicted in the Redflex traffic camera corruption case.

The Municipal Employees Benefit and Annuity Fund agreed to suspend Bills’ pension payments effective Sept. 1 and notified him that a hearing to determine whether his benefits should be terminated will be held later in the month, according to a letter obtained through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

The pension fund’s board of trustees suspended Bills’ pension, pending a determination whether his conviction related to his service as a Chicago employee.

Bills, 55, a former city transportation official with ties to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, former mayor Richard M. Daley and City Hall, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his involvement in the Redflex Traffic Systems camera scandal. He was convicted of 20 counts including bribery, tax evasion and mail fraud.

Bills worked for the city for 33 years, rising to the second-highest position in the transportation department.

Pension benefits paid to retirees are revoked after a felony conviction related to municipal service according to the Illinois Pension Code.

Prior to the suspension, Bills’ MEABF pension for 2016 was estimated to be $111,800, according to the Better Government Association’s Pension Database. Bills has been paid almost $550,000 since his retirement in 2011.

Redflex is an Australian-based company with offices in Arizona that specializes in digital photo enhancement technologies, including the red-light camera system in Chicago, which operated between 2003 and today. Mayor Rahm Emanuel cancelled the contract in 2013 after the Chicago Tribune published allegations about the program.

Federal prosecutors said Bills accepted at least $560,000 in bribes in the case, though some estimates put the total at greater than $2 million.

Bribes also took the form of gifts including a Mercedes-Benz and an Arizona condominium.

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Jared Rutecki. He can be reached at jrutecki@bettergov.org.