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State orders controversial set of red-light cameras in Oakbrook Terrace turned off as federal corruption probe progresses – Chicago Tribune


Amid a federal corruption probe and a threatened lawsuit, the state has ordered red-light cameras at one of suburban Chicago’s busiest intersections to be turned off.

The Illinois Department of Transportation confirmed Thursday it revoked the operating permit for Oakbrook Terrace’s cameras, at Illinois Highway 83 and 22nd Street. But the reason given by IDOT had nothing to do with federal allegations the west suburb’s former mayor took bribes to greenlight the cameras, or with threats from a neighboring suburb that it would sue IDOT to get the cameras removed.

IDOT said Oakbrook Terrace hadn’t followed state requirements on submitting periodic reports documenting that the cameras had improved safety — requirements that the Tribune previously found IDOT had long failed to enforce.

Oakbrook Terrace’s city administrator, Amy Marrero, did not immediately return a call and email.

IDOT’s decision immediately stops the cameras from churning out $100 tickets — something the cameras have been doing since August 2017, when they began issuing what at the time averaged about $20,000 worth of tickets a day, many for drivers failing to completely stop before turning right on red.

The Tribune previously reported how Oakbrook Terrace’s then-mayor, Tony Ragucci, and red-light camera firm SafeSpeed were able to get cameras installed at the busy but relatively safe intersection, a corner shared by Oakbrook Terrace and neighboring Oak Brook.

Oak Brook officials fought the cameras, saying the corner didn’t need them, but IDOT had the final call because the cameras would be put on a state route. IDOT previously deemed the corner too safe for cameras, but later reversed course.

That reversal came after then-powerful Senate Transportation Committee chair Martin Sandoval intervened on SafeSpeed’s behalf, as did another state senator, Tom Cullerton. The Tribune has previously reported that, before dying of COVID-19 in 2020, Sandoval admitted to accepted bribes from a SafeSpeed official, Omar Maani, who at the time was secretly working with federal investigators. Cullerton later admitted to taking part in a ghost payroll scheme and awaits sentencing.

Ragucci was also recently indicted on charges he was paid off as part of a scheme in which the red-light camera firm paid a 14% commission on revenue generated on the cameras to another firm it had hired as a “sales consultant” to get city business.

That consulting firm’s officials then paid a portion of the commission to Ragucci, first $3,500 a month, then an amount based on how much cash the cameras generated, prosecutors have alleged. The then-mayor also directly accepted $12,500 cash from a SafeSpeed official, also unaware he was secretly working with federal investigators, prosecutors have said.

Ragucci has pleaded not guilty. SafeSpeed has maintained it did nothing wrong, saying after Ragucci’s indictment that the firm “remains both shocked and saddened that one of its former colleagues was engaged in criminal conduct and recruited outside individuals to help further his self-serving activities.”

In the meantime, Oak Brook officials were readying a lawsuit to try to force IDOT to take down the cameras, said village trustee Michael Manzo, who’s helped lead the effort.

Manzo told the Tribune village officials previously pleaded with state lawmakers and IDOT officials to take the cameras down, citing the ever-widening federal corruption probe that tied in to those cameras.

“All the elected officials from Springfield just kept making excuses about how this can’t be done,” Manzo said. “Only in Illinois can you uncover a corrupt scheme, and even after it’s uncovered, it’s allowed to continue.”

Manzo said he believes IDOT balked only after realizing Oak Brook — which had filed a lawsuit years ago but withdrew it — was more serious this time about seeing it through, to the point state officials would be forced to turn over documents and explain their actions under oath.

IDOT, however, offered a more simple reason for revoking the cameras’ permit: Oakbrook Terrace hadn’t turned in required reports.

“Despite repeated requests, the city did not submit the post-installation analysis on the effectiveness of the camera system to improve safety at the intersection, as required by IDOT policy,” IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda wrote in an email to the Tribune.

When asked what the federal corruption investigation or threatened lawsuit had to do with the decision, she responded that the decision to revoke the permit “has been part of an ongoing review of existing permits.” Asked if the agency had revoked other suburbs’ permits, she said the agency was “currently reviewing all red-light camera permits for compliance.”

The Tribune previously reported that IDOT’s policy requires it conduct periodic reviews of each intersection where cameras were introduced, using reports each suburb is supposed to turn in after the first year of operating cameras, and then every three years after that.

But the Tribune found that IDOT routinely failed to enforce that policy — not even tracking who turned them in and, for suburbs that did, not reviewing what their studies found. As a result, IDOT hadn’t ordered any cameras on state routes to be removed for ineffectiveness, while suburbs collected millions of dollars in fines — sometimes in places where crashes had increased after cameras were turned on, according to the newspaper review.

At the time of the 2017 investigation, IDOT told the Tribune that the required reports were merely for suburbs to “monitor their own progress” to decide if they wanted to keep cameras.

jmahr@chicagotribune.com



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