Ex-Redflex CEO gets 30 months for aiding red-light camera bribery

SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - Chicagoans are sick of watching elected officials walk through the revolving door of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, a judge said Thursday.

But, she noted: “It takes two to tango.”

So moments later, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall sentenced the one-time CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems to 30 months in prison for enabling a massive bribery scheme at the heart of Chicago’s red-light camera program, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Karen Finley, 57, pleaded guilty in August 2015 to conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said Finley played a “vital and active role” in a scam that netted City Hall insider John Bills 10 years in prison earlier this year.

“I’m sorry that my conduct has contributed to the public’s mistrust of the government,” Finley told the judge moments before she was sentenced.

A judge in Ohio handed Finley a 14-month prison sentence last month for her role in a similar scheme there. She will serve the two sentences simultaneously, and her attorneys had hoped her Chicago sentence would not exceed the one handed down in Ohio.

But prosecutors here asked Kendall to sentence Finley to 30 months in prison, calling bribery a “two-way street.”

“Corrupt public officials cannot rob taxpayers without private counterparts willing to feed their corruption,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurie Barsella wrote in a sentencing memo late last month. “Finley was a senior executive of a company that chose to compete for business in Chicago. Rather than competing fairly, Finley and others at Redflex chose to play dirty.”

Bills helped Redflex cheat its way into $131 million in red-light camera contracts between 2002 and 2011. In return, prosecutors say Bills took $680,000 in bribes. That included $560,000 in kickbacks passed to Bills by Martin O’Malley, the elderly recovering alcoholic Finley agreed to hire in late 2003 even though he seemed far from qualified, or even “computer savvy.” Finley once said of O’Malley: “He takes care of John, and John took care of Redflex.”

Kendall sentenced O’Malley in September to six months in prison. But she made clear during Finley’s sentencing Thursday that she saw O’Malley as a “weak” and elderly man who was simply used by Bills — and less culpable than the CEO of a corporation who “had the world by the tail.”

Finley served as Redflex’s vice president of operations from 2001 until 2005, when she became the company’s CEO. She has said she didn’t initially realize that O’Malley was passing his bonus and commission money to Bills, who was an assistant commissioner in the Chicago Department of Transportation when the scam started. It later became apparent, and Finley buried her head in the sand, refusing to address the obvious corruption.

“I just didn’t want to know,” Finley testified in January during Bills’ trial.

Finley also falsely certified on economic disclosure statements that no Redflex employee had bribed or attempted to bribe a city worker — even though Finley knew exactly what was happening, Barsella said.

“Karen is profoundly sorry for her participation in the bribery scheme,” defense attorney Jacqueline Jacobson wrote in a sentencing memo. “She is angry at herself for lacking the strength to leave Redflex when confronted with the scheme. Even though Karen is still proud of her hard work, she understands that she was wrong when she ‘stopped thinking of herself as a CEO and just went along with what everyone wanted.’ This decision will haunt Karen for the rest of her life.”

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