State Sen. Emil Jones III hit with federal bribery charges tied to red-light camera investigation

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Illinois State Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, speaks to members of the media after stepping out of the closed door negotiations for the next Senate President at the Illinois State Capitol, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Springfield, Ill.

Justin L. Fowler, AP Photos

State Sen. Emil Jones III has been hit with federal bribery charges as part of a yearslong investigation involving the politically connected red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC.

Jones, son of former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., is also charged with lying to the FBI.

The charges against the younger Jones point to a Senate bill filed in February 2019 requiring a statewide study of automated traffic law enforcement systems, including red-light cameras.

The feds say Jones agreed that, in exchange for benefits provided by SafeSpeed partner Omar Maani, he would work to limit such studies to systems used in Chicago, “thereby excluding from study and recommendations automated traffic enforcement systems utilized in numerous other municipalities” served by SafeSpeed.

Jones also allegedly told Maani he would protect SafeSpeed from legislation in the General Assembly in exchange for $5,000 and a job for an unnamed associate.

The state senator allegedly lied to the FBI about his role in the scheme Sept. 24, 2019.

That was the same day federal agents raided the home and offices of state Sen. Martin Sandoval, including in the state Capitol building. Sandoval died in 2020.

The feds filed their charges against Jones in a document known as an information, which typically signals a defendant’s intention to plead guilty. The Chicago Democrat is now the latest in a long line of Illinois politicians to face charges since the feds’ probe of SafeSpeed-related deals surfaced in 2019.

Others who have faced charges related to SafeSpeed include Sandoval, former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, former Worth Township Supervisor John O’Sullivan and former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci.

Also charged separately is Maani, who played a central role in many of the schemes outlined by prosecutors. Maani struck a so-called deferred-prosecution agreement with the feds in 2020 and agreed to cooperate with them.

SafeSpeed has not been charged with wrongdoing and has portrayed Maani as a rogue actor.

State Sen. Emil Jones III (left) with his father, former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. (right).

Sun-Times File

Jones’ father led the Illinois Senate from 2003 to 2009. He considered himself to be former President Barack Obama’s “political godfather” — after having taken Obama under his wing when he served in the state Senate. The elder Jones served 35 years in the General Assembly.

Raising many eyebrows, Jones Jr. appointed Jones III, then 31, to his Senate seat in 2009. Jones III has run unopposed since 2012. At the time of his appointment, Jones Jr.’s allies rallied for his son.

State Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, a longtime Jones Jr. ally and inheritor of a political legacy himself, said he saw nothing wrong with Jones III getting a chance to hold his father’s Senate seat.

“Give him a chance to prove himself,” Rita said in 2008.

Jones III worked for the state between May 1999 and November 2006, when he briefly left the payroll. Despite not having a college degree, he was hired in April 2007 as an administrator for former Gov. Blagojevich’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity — a job that paid $59,436 annually.

He serves on eight Illinois Senate committees, including public safety, where he is a vice-chair.

Jones III is also chair of the Licensed Activities committee.

Jones III represents the 14th Senate District, which encompasses Far South Side neighborhoods and south suburban Cook County, including Alsip, Oak Forest, Crestwood, and Blue Island. After redistricting, the district will stretch into other swaths of southwest suburbs, like Orland Park and Oak Forest.

Illinois State Board of Elections records show Jones III had $136,936.72 cash on hand at the end of June. He has since taken in $57,500 in contributions.

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September 20, 2022 at 02:36PM

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