November 21, 2014
The former CEO of the company at the heart of Chicago’s growing red light camera bribery scandal has been federally indicted.
Karen Finley — the 54-year-old former boss of Redflex Traffic Systems — was indicted Wednesday, three months after city worker John Bills was charged with taking bribes to help Redflex win the city’s lucrative camera contract.
Bills also was indicted Wednesday, as was his pal Martin O’Malley, who allegedly funneled the kickbacks.
The indictment alleges 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, of Arizona, was Redflex’s chief executive from 2005 through February last year, and its vice president of operations from 2001.
She faces 12 fraud counts and four bribery counts. The feds say she was at a meeting at the John Hancock Center in 2003 when Bills gave Redflex the inside dope on how to win contracts.
After Bills told Redflex it was “time to make good,” she then hired O’Malley, 73, of south suburban Worth, as a contractor so that he could pass bribes on to Bills, and later deleted emails and lied on disclosure forms to cover up the scheme, it’s alleged.
U.S Attorney Zach Fardon said in a news release that the indictments showed that, “When public officials peddle influence for profit, the consequences are severe, and when corporate executives enable that corruption, the same rule applies.”
If convicted on all counts, Finley and Bills face anything up to effective life sentences. O’Malley, who’s charged with a single bribery count, faces up to five years behind bars.
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.
Touted as a safety measure by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and first installed at accident-prone intersections in 2003, the firm’s cameras pumped out a high of 791,111 tickets in 2009.
But after the Chicago Tribune last year disclosed Bills’ relationship with Redflex, which later admitted making inappropriate payments to Bills, Mayor Rahm Emanuel removed it and banned it from bidding for contracts.
Even so, recent evidence of unexplained spikes in tickets means the red light program remains a political headache for the mayor.