Aussie firm linked with bribery, extortion case

By Peter Mitchell

A Chicago transport official has been found guilty of taking bribes from Australian red-light camera firm Redflex. Photo / Duncan Brown
A Chicago transport official has been found guilty of taking bribes from Australian red-light camera firm Redflex. Photo / Duncan Brown

Greedy Chicago official John Bills and the eager-to-expand executives heading Australian red-light camera company Redflex's United States operation were the perfect match.

Both initially got what they wanted, although they're now being hammered for their illicit plan.

Bills, 54, was swiftly convicted by a jury in a Chicago court yesterday of all 20 charges, including bribery, extortion and tax evasion, and faces a long stint in jail after taking more than US$2 million ($3 million) in cash and lavish gifts from Redflex Traffic Systems.

The former Chicago Department of Transport's second-in-command showed little emotion when the verdict was handed down after less than a day of deliberations.

"John is going to continue to fight for his innocence," Bills' lawyer John Nishay said after the decision, the Chicago-Tribune reported.

The prosecution's star witness was Redflex's former chief executive of its North American operations, Karen Finley, who will be sentenced next month after pleading guilty to paying bribes to Bills.

Through the secret relationship between Bills, Finley and other Redflex executives in the US, the company rapidly expanded in Chicago with US$100 million in contracts and 384 cameras that generated US$600 million in fines.

Bills pocketed cash for each camera.

Chicago had more cameras than any other city in the US.

Bills would rig committee decisions, including selecting unclear photos by a rival red-light camera operator and clear shots taken by ASX-listed, Melbourne-headquartered Redflex.
It allowed Bills to live a lavish style, lapping up gifts, hotel stays and meals, and large sums of cash.

Locals detested the cameras, something that became a hot issue when the judge, prosecution and defence were attempting to select a jury.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel cancelled Redflex's contract in 2013 after the Tribune first reported the scandal.

Redflex has suffered a major downturn in its US business with the bad publicity not only in Chicago, but in other US cities, including Columbus, where Redflex-hired lobbyist John Raphael has pleaded guilty to extortion by threats.

- AAP

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