Federal prosecutors want to send the ex-City Hall insider who rigged Chicago’s red-light camera program to prison for at least 10 years.
John Bills stands convicted of 20 counts of fraud, extortion, bribery and other crimes for helping Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. cheat its way into $131 million in red-light camera contracts between 2002 and 2011, mostly during the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Now the feds want U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall to consider a 10-year sentence “as a floor” during Bills’ sentencing hearing, set for Aug. 29.
Such a sentence would be significant and, if granted, it would be handed down in a case that involved the passing of cash bribes at Manny’s Deli and Schaller’s Pump, as well as the sharing of insider information over drinks at the John Hancock Center.
It would surpass former Gov. George Ryan’s 6 1/2-year sentence, though Kendall is unlikely to match ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence, just reinstated last week and the stiffest public-corruption punishment handed down in Chicago.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Storino asked Kendall to put Bills away for a decade or more in a memo filed with the court Monday evening. In a previous filing, prosecutors had only promised they would seek “a significant term of imprisonment” for Bills. In a rare move, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon personally helped prosecute the case when it went to trial in January.
“John Bills exploited the public trust to line his own pockets,” Storino wrote in the new memo. “He did so repeatedly and proactively over the course of about a decade. Since being caught, he has shown no remorse or contrition. He is thus deserving of a significant term of imprisonment.”
After his client was found guilty, Bills attorney Nishay Sanan insisted Bills had been framed and would keep fighting to prove his innocence. In his own memo to the judge, Sanan asked for a lenient sentence and admitted Bills “made some bad decisions.”
But Sanan continued to deny allegations made at trial and insisted “the city of Chicago is not a victim.” It said Bills’ conviction cost him his new job at Bed Bath & Beyond, where he had started as a greeter in March 2015 but was promoted to oversee security.
“Mr. Bills was never a ringleader set out to mastermind an elaborate bribery scheme,” Sanan wrote. “He never had the authority or power.”
But Storino said Bills played a “critical role” in the red-light camera program, and he wrote that Bills’ scam will have “lasting effects on the citizens of the city of Chicago by, among other things, eroding the public’s faith in the possibility of honest city governance.”
Bills used his role as assistant commissioner in the Chicago Department of Transportation to help Redflex cheat its way into $131 million in red-light camera contracts. In return, the company showered him with more than $18,000 in posh hotel stays, fancy dinners, computers, cigars and the use of a $177,000 Arizona condo.
It also hired a buddy of Bills’ to pass him $560,000 in bribes.
The feds put Bills’ three co-conspirators — former Redflex CEO Karen Finley, ex-Redflex Vice President Aaron Rosenberg and Bills’ pal Martin O’Malley — on the stand to help prove their case. Finley and O’Malley have pleaded guilty and still face sentencing.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel canceled Redflex’s contract in 2013 after the Chicago Tribune first published allegations about the bribery scheme.