CHICAGO (AP) — A former Chicago official on trial for allegedly taking bribes to steer $100 million in red-light camera contracts to a Phoenix company is innocent because he didn't have the power to do so, his attorney said in an opening statement Wednesday.
Attorney Nishay Sanan argued that if someone in Chicago is going to be bribed, it would be someone with power and not John Bills, the former second in command at Chicago's Department of Transportation whom prosecutors allege accepted cash and gifts to steer contracts to Phoenix-based Redflex Traffic Systems Inc.
"John Bills did not have the ability, the power, the control, the influence or the leverage to direct that contract to Redflex," he said.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel canceled Redflex's contract in 2013 following the Chicago Tribune's reports of the alleged bribery scheme. Bills retired from his job as the city's managing deputy commissioner of transportation in 2011, and he was charged in 2014.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Storino told jurors that Bills used his power at City Hall in a decadelong conspiracy to benefit Redflex in exchange for more than a half-million dollars in cash bribes, as well as lavish hotel stays, golf outings, sports vacations, pricey meals, even an Arizona condominium.
"This is a case about public corruption," Storino said. "It's a case of a high-level city official who had power, who violated the public trust for one reason, and that reason was greed to line his own pockets."
Storino said the case against Bills is about the corruption of a city process by a "greedy public official" and not red-light cameras. But he also asked the jury to consider that Bills' scheme resulted in more cameras and more traffic tickets.
"His commission structure was specifically tied to the number of cameras installed around the city," Storino said.
Sanan said prosecutors are relying on the credibility of three alleged co-conspirators who have cut deals with them. One of those expected to testify in the trial is Martin O'Malley, who was hired as a Redflex consultant and has pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme.
O'Malley testified Wednesday that he passed envelopes stuffed with thousands in cash at a time to Bills at a restaurant.
"Sometimes there would be other people there with us, but they couldn't tell what was happening," O'Malley said.
O'Malley, 75, also told jurors he collected about $2 million in bogus commissions during the 10-year conspiracy. He said Redflex paid him a commission every time a new camera system was installed in Chicago.