Sunday, May 22, 2022

Former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Anthony Ragucci charged in red light camera bribery scheme

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Former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Anthony Ragucci is facing federal corruption charges, accused of taking thousands of dollars in payoffs in exchange for allowing red light cameras in the suburb.

Ragucci, who resigned in January 2020 amid published reports of a federal investigation of the city’s red light camera contract, has been charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday.

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According to the charges, a red light camera firm identified only as “Company A” got a one-year contract to operate red light cameras in Oakbrook Terrace in September 2012, with options for two one-year renewals, but the first cameras did not begin operating until August 2017.

In late 2016, an unnamed “Individual B-1,” who was president of an unnamed “Company B” that worked as the sales representative of “Company A,” offered to hire a relative of Ragucci’s in exchange for his continued support of the red light cameras.

Instead, in January 2017,  Ragucci informed Individual B-1 that his relative would not go on Company B’s payroll, and instead Individual B-1 agreed to pay Ragucci $3,500 a month from revenue generated by the red light cameras. Individual B-1 began making those payments after the red light cameras began operating in August 2017.

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Shortly before Individual B-1 died in January 2018, Ragucci met with him and an unnamed “Individual B-2,” who ended up taking over as Company B’s president, and continued making the monthly payments to Ragucci.

In August 2018, a representative of the red light camera company, identified only as “Individual A,” who was cooperating with federal prosecutors at the time, provided Ragucci with a $5,000 payment in exchange for renewing the red light camera contract. In April 2019, Individual A provided Ragucci with a $7,500 payment in exchange for signing another one-year renewal of the contract.

The charges also accuse Ragucci of filing a false federal income tax return in 2018, claiming his total income was $95,830, when he “knew that his total income substantially exceeded that amount.”

The charges do not identify the red light camera company involved in the case, but according to published reports, the company is SafeSpeed, which has been connected to multiple other cases involving SafeSpeed representatives paying bribes to local politicians.

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SafeSpeed has denied any wrongdoing, saying any bribes offered by former employees or representatives were made without the company’s knowledge.

In January 2020, former Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, admitting he agreed to act as a “protector” for SafeSpeed in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes. In total, prosecutors say Sandoval took $250,000 in bribes from crimes involving more than five people, including $70,000 in government-supplied cash from a SafeSpeed representative, in connection to his support for the red light camera industry.

Sandoval agreed to cooperate with federal investigators, but died in December 2020 before he could be sentenced.

Just weeks after Sandoval pleaded guilty, former high-ranking Cook County official Patrick Doherty was indicted on charges he conspired to pay bribes to a relative of an Oak Lawn village trustee in order to install new red light cameras in the southwest suburb.

At the time, Doherty was chief of staff to then-Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski.

According to the indictment, Doherty also worked as a sales agent for a company with a contract to operate red light cameras in Oak Lawn, and as part of his employment with them, received a portion of the proceeds from red light camera violations generated by their cameras. The indictment does not identify the company, but Oak Lawn officials confirmed the company is SafeSpeed.

Doherty has pleaded not guilty.

Tobolski, who was also mayor of southwest suburban McCook, himself later was charged with conspiracy to commit extortion and filing a false tax return, and has resigned as both mayor of McCook and as a Cook County commissioner. He later pleaded guilty to accepting more than $250,000 in bribes in schemes not tied to SafeSpeed.

Meantime, in August 2020, former SafeSpeed co-owner Omar Maani was charged with scheming with Doherty and another SafeSpeed sales agent for his role in bribing an Oak Lawn village trustee in exchange for their support of installing additional red light cameras in the southwest suburb.

Maani also is cooperating with federal investigators, and has entered into a deferred prosecution deal that would see his charges dismissed if he meets the obligations of his cooperation agreement.

In a statement, SafeSpeed officials said the company “had no knowledge of Omar Maani’s criminal conduct, and SafeSpeed certainly did not authorize it, and does not condone it.”

In November 2021, former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta resigned from office just hours before pleading guilty to federal charges accusing him of taking bribes from a red light camera company that does business in the southwest suburban village.

Federal prosecutors had accused him of accepting a $5,000 cash bribe from a red light camera company, in exchange for helping them install more cameras in Crestwood.

The indictment against Presta did not identify the red light camera company involved in the case, but published reports have stated the company is SafeSpeed.

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