Top Cook County official latest indicted in connection to red-light camera industry

Top Cook County official latest indicted in connection to red-light camera industry

A high-ranking Cook County political operative moonlighting as a sales agent for a red-light camera company is the latest politician accused of bribery in a sprawling federal corruption probe.

A top Cook County political operative is the latest to face federal corruption charges in connection to a controversial red-light camera company.

On Feb. 14, federal authorities served Patrick Doherty, chief of staff for Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, a three-count indictment on charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery.

The indictment accuses Doherty of attempting to pay $4,000 in bribes to a relative of a village trustee in Oak Lawn in exchange for help getting additional devices installed in the suburb. The charges show Doherty doubled as a sales agent for a red-light camera vendor SafeSpeed LLC, which had maintained a contract with the village since 2014 and was set to expire in 2018.

Doherty conspired with a SafeSpeed co-owner and an additional sales agent to conceal the series of payments from public view by routing them through a third party, which the indictment refers to as “Company D.”

In a 2017 phone call recorded by federal authorities, Doherty tells the unnamed sales agent that he’d pay the bribe on the condition that “it’s going to get us the job,” before adding, “I’ll just pay it,” according to the indictment.

“Just make sure we get the, make sure we get the [expletive] thing, the contract,” he told the sales agent on the call.

Oak Lawn is not the first Cook County suburb in which red-light camera activity has attracted the attention of federal investigators. And Doherty is not the first public officeholder indicted over his connections in the industry.

In September 2019, a series of raids involving the FBI and IRS targeted the village halls of Lyons, Summit and McCook seeking information about SafeSpeed. That month also saw the home and offices of former state Sen. Martin Sandoval raided. Sandoval, who formerly headed the powerful Illinois Senate Transportation Committee, pleaded guilty to two counts of tax fraud and bribery, with the latter charge appearing to involve SafeSpeed.

Tobolski, Doherty’s boss on the county board, serves as McCook mayor on top of his commissioner role.

Red-light cameras in Illinois have collected more than $1 billion in tickets from drivers since 2008 – despite having little to showin the way of improvements to traffic safety.

The devices’ questionable ticketing practices and heavy presence in federal investigators’ escalating corruption probe has sparked a backlash against the industry on Illinois roads – and in the Statehouse. On Feb. 1, lawmakers in the Illinois House of Representatives approved a bill for a floor vote that would remove more than 100 red-light cameras in Illinois.

An arraignment date for Doherty has not yet been scheduled.

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