Former Chicago official had side job with red-light camera company

Former Chicago official had side job with red-light camera company

The former deputy aviation commissioner had an undisclosed position as a sales representative for SafeSpeed LLC. The red-light camera vendor keeps emerging in federal probes.

A former Chicago deputy aviation commissioner worked as a sales representative for a red-light camera company, but reportedly didn’t tell the city about the job.

Bill Helm began working for the city’s Department of Aviation in 2014 and oversaw airfield maintenance for $125,000 a year when he quit in August. While working for the city he also worked for SafeSpeed LLC, a red-light camera vendor, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Helm failed to disclose his second income to City Hall and the Chicago Board of Ethics, as is required, the newspaper reported. As a sales representative, he receives a commission from red-light camera fees collected in Matteson and Glendale Heights. Both cities have said they have no knowledge as to who he is.

While Glendale Heights no longer contracts with SafeSpeed, Helm received $4,156 in July 2019 from tickets in Matteson. Matteson has collected $5.6 million since installing cameras in 2016, according to data obtained through Freedom of Information requests by the Illinois Policy Institute.

Helm is also the apparent subject of a federal investigation, according to the Sun-Times. He has hired an attorney and had his phone seized by federal investigators. Additionally, his name has appeared in subpoenas and search warrants involving south suburban officials as part of a federal investigation involving SafeSpeed.

Helm also appeared in documents related to state Sen. Martin Sandoval, who had his office raided in connection with the SafeSpeed probe. Helm’s close relationship with the senator included attending the wedding of Sandoval’s son.

2017 investigation by the Chicago Tribune found Sandoval used his transportation chairmanship, which he has since resigned, to pressure the Illinois Department of Transportation into approving a SafeSpeed camera at an Oakbrook Terrace intersection after the company donated to his campaign. IDOT initially rejected the request, determining the intersection was already sufficiently safe. That Tribune report found more than half of the intersections for which IDOT approved permits were already among the safest in the state by the department’s own standards.

SafeSpeed also has other employees who have firm political connections. The co-CEO of the company was a former aid to Gov. Jim Edgar. The chief of staff to the Cook County Commissioner, Patrick Doherty, is also a sales representative for SafeSpeed and receives commissions from municipalities.

Helm’s deals with SafeSpeed and political connections as a former City of Chicago employee underscore how important it is for Illinois politicians to ban red-light cameras. The system has taken over $1 billion in fines from drivers in the past 10 years, a cash grab without proof that the devices improve public safety. It has created scandals that sent politicians to prison before the current round of federal probes.

Illinois lawmakers have introduced three bills to ban the cameras statewide and another that called on IDOT to study the issue. The study bill gained 17 bipartisan Senate sponsors and made it to the floor, but was not called for a vote before the veto session ended Nov. 14.

Lawmakers may want the support of another study before calling for a statewide ban when they return to Springfield in 2020, but the issue has already been studied and the cameras are being disconnected nationally. The unnecessary traffic devices have taken enough from Illinois drivers and corrupted too many of its politicians.

It’s time for a statewide ban, or at least for Illinois communities to take responsibility for pulling the plug on their own.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!