Former state lawmaker used bribes to promote red-light cameras in Chicago suburb, feds charge

Former state lawmaker used bribes to promote red-light cameras in Chicago suburb, feds charge

New federal corruption charges state a former Illinois House member conspired to use bribes to get a red-light traffic camera contract renewed and more of them installed in a suburban Chicago community. Traffic cameras collected $5.5 million during a decade in the suburb.

Bribes were paid in an attempt to keep and put more red-light cameras in suburban Oak Lawn, with a former Illinois state representative conspiring in 2017 to sway a trustee, according to federal charges filed April 23.

The former lawmaker, John O’Sullivan, was charged with conspiring with the former chief of staff for a Cook County commissioner, Patrick Doherty, and Omar Maani, the former co-owner of red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC who has turned federal witness. The charge states they paid $4,000 in bribes to the immediate relative of an Oak Lawn trustee in exchange for official support renewing the village’s SafeSpeed camera contract and adding more red-light cameras to village intersections.

Oak Lawn had four cameras that collected $5.5 million between 2008 and 2018, according to an Illinois Policy Institute investigation. It is a Cook County suburb southwest of Chicago with 56,700 residents.

Statewide, red-light cameras took $1 billion during that decade from drivers in Illinois.

Efforts to spread use of the traffic cameras have been an ongoing theme in the federal corruption investigation in the Chicago area.

Prosecutors stated the trio believed the village trustee would support a measure to have the suburb “use more-lenient standards in approving proposed traffic violations” submitted by SafeSpeed.

At the time, O’Sullivan was a veteran player in Cook County politics, having served as an appointed state House lawmaker, a staffer to former Cook County Commissioner Ed Moody, regional superintendent to the Cook County Forest Preserve District, as well as trustee and later supervisor for Worth Township.

O’Sullivan was then brought on by SafeSpeed in 2017 as a “sales consultant” to increase the company’s footprint in the Chicago suburbs.

In a recorded phone call on May 23, 2017, Doherty told Maani that the Oak Lawn trustee was “looking for a job for his kid.” Maani asked whether the trustee’s son would want to be a violations reviewer for SafeSpeed.

“I don’t know,” Doherty allegedly replied. “I think he’s looking to make as much money as he can because he’s going to college. … I pay him out of my LLC. Something like that. I don’t know. Something for him to do.”

According to the indictment filed against Doherty in February 2020, the trio decided to pay the trustee’s son $500 a week over eight weeks through the company Doherty managed.

Doherty was charged last year as part of the same scheme and is awaiting trial. Prosecutors expect additional charges to be filed against him in the coming weeks.

Maani was also indicted on one count of bribery but entered a deferred prosecution agreement with federal investigators to have the charges dropped.

Maani’s cooperation has led to charges against several politicians, including the late state Sen. Martin Sandoval. Sandoval admitted to accepting $70,000 in government-supplied cash from Maani in return for protecting SafeSpeed’s interests in the Senate. Sandoval passed away in December of a COVID-19 related illness while cooperating with   prosecutors.

SafeSpeed has denied any wrongdoing, saying both Doherty and Maani were acting without their knowledge.

Illinois is the second-most corrupt state in the nation and that corruption comes with a heavy price tag for the state economy – more than $550 million in foregone economic activity per year.

Not only does this cost all Illinois taxpayers, but it shakes residents’ faith in state and local politicians. The ongoing federal corruption probes are a reminder that Illinois has a lot of work ahead to undo the political culture of corruption.

State lawmakers can start changing that culture by embracing ethical reforms, including empowering the watchdog charged with holding lawmakers accountable for wrongdoing, improving transparency by improving financial disclosures from lawmakers, prohibiting members of the General Assembly from working as lobbyists to executive agencies and local governments, and by requiring a cooling off period before lawmakers can become lobbyists to the General Assembly after leaving office.

Ethics reforms will not stop every corrupt politician in Illinois, but they will offer transparency to help keep them honest and set an expectation of public service without personal profit.

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