State Sen. Emil Jones III charged with bribery in latest expansion of red-light camera case

Illinois State Sen. Emil Jones III has been charged with federal bribery charges for taking money from a red-light camera company executive to beat a law requiring traffic studies for automated camera systems, then about federal bribery. lied to the agents.

Jones, 44, was charged with bribery and lying to the FBI on Tuesday with criminal information made public.

Jones, the son of former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., is the latest politician to be indicted in an extensive federal investigation focused on red-light cameras set up by SafeSpeed ​​LLC, the once-dominant camera company that runs red-light cameras. Secures the contract. -Light cameras installed in nearly two dozen suburbs of Chicago cost motorists millions of dollars in fines annually.

Targeting illegal attempts to clear the way for cameras, the investigation opened wide in 2019 when agents raided the offices of then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval, who was then head of the state Senate’s powerful transportation committee.

In a statement Tuesday, the former Senate president defended his son.

“The allegations against my son, Emil Jones III, do not reflect the man he is,” Jones Jr. said. “Everyone knows that he is an honest, hardworking MLA. I intend to fight with him and stand by him throughout this process. ,

The trial was scheduled for Jones III on Friday. Defendants charged through criminal information, rather than grand jury indictment, usually intend to plead guilty.

Jones III, a Far South Side Democrat, has served in the state Senate since 2009 and has been a member of the same transportation committee as the late Sandoval. He did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Tuesday, and his lawyer, Zeke Katz, did not respond to emails. Jones is up for re-election in November, but is not facing any challengers for a Senate seat.

Oak Park Senate President Don Harmon said in a statement that he “has asked and expects to receive Senator Jones’ resignation from his leadership position and chair of the committee.”

“These are serious allegations,” Harmon said. “Members of the Senate and all public officials need to hold themselves to a high ethical standard by having faith and belief in our work for the public.”

Jones’ salary as a senator is $72,906 annually. If he resigns from his committee chair, he will have to pay an additional stipend of $11,098 per year.

The timing of the charges is tricky, as the US Department of Justice has a general policy that charges are not brought against candidates within 60 days of an election. Jones is running unopposed on the November 8 general election ballot.

The charges were also filed almost three years later. Raid on the offices and house of Sandoval. At the time, Democratic leaders did not immediately move to oust Sandoval from the transportation committee, attracting a comment from Jones III.

“You are innocent until proven guilty,” Jones then said. “But I think considering the investigation, (Sandoval) should step down temporarily.”

In February 2019, Jones introduced a bill in the Senate that would require the Illinois Department of Transportation to conduct a statewide study of automated traffic law enforcement systems, including red-light cameras operated by SafeSpeed, according to a six-page report. Information

The allegations allege that Jones agreed with SafeSpeed ​​executive and co-founder Omar Mani — who was secretly collaborating with federal investigators — to “protect” SafeSpeed ​​by limiting any traffic studies in the city of Chicago. to, except in the suburbs where the company does most of its business. ,

In return, Jones took a profit of $5,000 and wanted a job and additional payment for an unnamed associate, Personal B, according to the fee. In August 2019, Jones told Mani that if he contributed $5,000 by sponsoring an event, he would “not have to report that contribution” on the state campaign funding report, the allegations alleged. Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said that under state campaign finance law, the sponsorship of campaign events must be reported to election officials.

On September 24, 2019, the day of the FBI raid on Sandoval’s offices, Jones was interviewed by agents. According to the allegations, he lied by saying that he had not agreed to protect SafeSpeed ​​in return for hiring Manny or paying Personal B, and that he did not negotiate with Mann in any way to avoid disclosure of campaign funding. The plan was not discussed.

Illinois General Assembly records show that Jones’ proposal was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on November 19, 2019, which was not led by Sandoval at the time since he stepped down as head of the panel in October. years between federal investigations.

Sandoval would eventually be tried and convicted on corruption cases related to bribery, but he died of COVID-19 complications in December 2020 while cooperating with the government.

In Springfield, the Transportation Committee unanimously approved Jones’ legislation—less than three minutes later—before Jones could complete his explanation of the bill. However, in the full Senate, lawmakers did not vote up or down at the stage of its passage.

The red-light camera investigation has so far implicated more than a dozen politicians, political operatives and businessmen, many of whom either moonlighted for SafeSpeed ​​as consultants or had a direct impact on how much money the company could make. .

Among them was former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Raguchi, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to participating in a bribery scheme with a mobster-affiliated businessman and his stepson, which allegedly sold the mayor in exchange for a ticket cut to the suburb. Thousands were funded in cash payment. revenue.

Like Jones, the federal government accused Raguchi of ill-treating Manny in exchange for renewing the company’s annual contract with Oakbrook Terrace.

Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, who was sentenced to a year in federal prison in April, was also charged after he was caught in an undercover FBI video of him taking a $5,000 bribe from Manny.

The investigation has also led to the conviction of former State Representative and longtime Worth Township Supervisor John O’Sullivan and his colleague, Patrick Doherty, a Democratic political activist. O’Sullivan and Doherty have both admitted their role in a 2017 conspiracy to bribe a relative of an Oak Lawn trustee to install flashy red-light cameras there.

A SafeSpeed ​​spokesperson did not immediately comment on Jones’ case. But the company and its president, Nikki Zoller, have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying that Mann was operating without the company’s knowledge or approval. Mani is no longer affiliated with the company.

“SafeSpeed’s goal has always been to provide a service that helps save lives,” the company said in a statement earlier this year. “As new developments in the federal investigation unfold, SafeSpeed ​​remains both shocked and saddened that one of its former associates had engaged in criminal conduct and sought to help outsiders pursue their self-serving activities. Their actions were clearly in their own interest and were done without SafeSpeed’s knowledge and undermines the important work SafeSpeed ​​does.”

Jones is the ninth member of the Illinois General Assembly to have been charged with federal crimes in the past several years. That list includes five of Jones’ former aides in the Senate — Sandoval, Thomas Colerton, Terry Link, Anazzette Collins and Sam McCann — as well as Madigan and ex-state representatives. Luis Arroyo, Eddie Acevedo.

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The Tribune has also reported that two other Democrats — State Senator Elgi Sims of Chicago and State Representative Thaddeus Jones of Calumet City — are under federal investigation.

With November’s election seven weeks away, Republican leaders in the state Senate and House raided the latest Democrats to impeach.

“Even in the post-Madigan era, Illinois remains a systemic corruption problem – one that Democrats continue to enable,” said Senate Republican leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorne Woods as Democrats criticized a range of ethics and anti-corruption asked to refuse to consider it. Reforms that the GOP want lawmakers to pass.

Dan Petrella of the Chicago Tribune contributed.

jmeisner@chciagotribune.com

rlong@chicagotribune.com

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