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

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Illinois State Sen. Emil Jones III has been hit with federal bribery charges alleging he took money from a red-light camera company to kill legislation requiring traffic studies for automated camera systems, then lied to federal agents about it.

Jones, 44, was charged in a criminal information made public Tuesday with bribery and lying to the FBI. An arraignment date has not been set. Defendants charged via criminal information, rather than via grand jury indictment, typically intend to plead guilty.

Jones, who is the son of former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., is the latest politician to be charged in a sweeping federal investigation that broke wide open in 2019 when agents raided the offices of then state Sen. Martin Sandoval, who at the time was the head of the state senate’s powerful transportation committee.

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. He did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Jones’ charging is the latest case involving red-light cameras installed by SafeSpeed LLC, which generates millions of dollars in fines from motorists each year in nearly two dozen Chicago suburbs.

Earlier this year, former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci pleaded guilty to participating in a kickback scheme involving the company with a mob-connected businessman and his stepsons that allegedly funneled thousands in cash payments to the mayor in exchange for a cut of the suburb’s ticket proceeds.

Just like with Jones, the federal government accused Ragucci of nefarious dealings with SafeSpeed’s co-founder and then-executive Omar Maani in exchange for renewing the company’s annual contract with Oak Brook Terrace. But Maani, a couple of years ago, began secretly cooperating with federal investigators in the sprawling case, which has also ensnared Sandoval, who has since died, Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta and several longtime Democratic political operatives.

In April, Presta was sentenced to a year in federal prison after he was caught on undercover FBI video taking what he thought was a $5,000 bribe from Maani.

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When Senate President Emil Jones Jr. announced his retirement in 2008, he defended putting his son into position to take over the Senate seat the elder Jones was giving up. The longtime Senate President alluded to the tradition of political dynasties in which relatives help relatives get big jobs.

“I recall John F. Kennedy, president of the United States, when he became president, he recommended his brother. Right? And his brother was elected,” The elder Jones said, in an apparent reference to Ted Kennedy, who followed his brother into the Senate, where he served for decades.

“Mayor Richard M. Daley begot… Richard J. Daley,” the elder Jones added, inadvertently reversing the order in which the Daleys served as mayor.

At that time, Jones also mentioned then-House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who helped his daughter become a state senator and then four terms as Illinois attorney general. The former speaker is now indicted on 22 counts, including extortion and racketeering.

The day after raids on Sandoval’s offices and home, Democratic leaders did not immediately move to unseat him from the transportation committee, drawing a comment from Jones III.

“You’re innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “But I think, considering what the investigation is about, (Sandoval) should temporarily step down.”

This is a developing story. Check back for details.

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September 20, 2022 at 02:03PM

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