It has been a year since the feds charged a former top state lawmaker with taking bribes to protect SafeSpeed LLC, a Chicago-based red light camera company.
Other indictments have followed, disclosing the alleged bribes and corruption that may have helped fuel the company’s growth in some suburbs.
Despite the allegations, WGN Investigates found many towns are still partnering with SafeSpeed, generating millions of dollars for the company and local government coffers.
In all, we found 21 towns had collected a total of more than $18 million from SafeSpeed red-light camera violations since the first indictment was handed down, early last year.
Former state Sen. Martin Sandoval, a longtime Chicago Democrat, was charged with bribery and tax offenses, tied to his support of the company. He later resigned and pleaded guilty to the charges. He has since died of complications from COVID-19.
Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta also is facing criminal charges, accused of accepting cash from a SafeSpeed operative as the company looked to expand in the village.
The feds may not be done with Presta, either.
WGN Investigates obtained a copy of a previously unreported subpoena, seeking payment records to the mayor and his private company, in a sign the case against him could be widening.
Presta has pleaded not guilty to the charges. And unlike other politicians who have been caught up in the controversy, he remains in office and is running for reelection.
The mayor repeatedly declined to comment at a recent board meeting.
But through a spokesman, he said, “In this country you are innocent until proven guilty. I’m confident when I get my day in court, I will be vindicated of these false allegations. My record of public service to my community and the fiscal condition of our town speaks for itself.”
There is a growing push to regulate the red-light camera industry, with proposed legislation in the Illinois General Assembly and a class-action claim against SafeSpeed in federal court.
“The objective of the suit is…to bring financial relief to the citizens of Illinois, and to also eliminate these fraudulently installed red-light cameras,” says Attorney Michael Leonard.
He and attorney Kent Maynard are representing the plaintiffs. An attorney for SafeSpeed declined comment on the lawsuit.
The company released the following statement.
“It’s a known fact that red light cameras save lives. The federal investigation has shown us all that there is potential to abuse these programs. We are clear: There is no place for that conduct by public officials, or people who operate in the red-light camera industry. We strongly support efforts to strengthen these programs and standardize best practices within the industry. Such efforts should be inclusive of all communities and companies that operate these programs.”