Former red light camera CEO pleads guilty in Chicago bribe scheme

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By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The former chief executive of a red-light camera company that used to run Chicago's controversial traffic cameras pleaded guilty on Tuesday to federal bribery charges.

Karen Finley, 55, entered her plea before U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall who said the former CEO of Australian camera firm Redflex Traffic Systems will be sentenced in February - after a trial of a co-conspirator - to a maximum of five years in federal prison.

According to a federal indictment, Finley, former city worker John Bills, and Bills' friend Martin O'Malley, who worked as a contractor for Redflex, conspired for Bills to receive $570,000 in cash, an Arizona condo and other kickbacks. In exchange, he made sure that Redflex maintained lucrative traffic-control camera contracts.

Finley pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. O'Malley, who is different from the former Maryland governor currently running for president, has already pleaded guilty to the same charge in the case. The charges against Bills are pending trial.

Chicago's unpopular traffic cameras include 174 installed at intersections with stop-lights and 144 speed cameras near schools and parks. The city has pulled in more than $500 million from fines generated by the cameras since 2003, according to media reports.

Finley in June pleaded guilty to a similar charge in Ohio and federal prosecutors have agreed that she will serve prison sentences in both cases simultaneously. She will also pay restitution in an amount that has not been determined.

Redflex had contracts with Chicago for 11 years, making as much as $25 million a year. The company was barred in 2013 from doing business with the city and a division of Xerox now runs Chicago's red-light cameras.

Finley left Redflex in 2013 amid a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the company's operations in Chicago, Ohio and elsewhere. Redflex said in a statement in June that the company has not been charged and has taken steps to improve compliance.

The $100 tickets from the red-light cameras are a common and dreaded piece of mail in Chicago. They come with a photograph of the vehicle crossing an intersection against a red light. The city's yellow lights are often just three seconds long.

Nearly three in four Chicago voters polled in January ahead of a mayoral election wants to eliminate or reduce the camera program, which has been criticized as a revenue instrument that does little to increase traffic safety.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz)

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