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State Sen. Emil Jones III accused of requesting bribe to protect red-light camera company, lying to FBI

State Sen. Emil Jones III hit with federal bribery charges
State Sen. Emil Jones III hit with federal bribery charges 00:45

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois state Sen. Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) has been indicted on charges that he asked for a bribe to oppose legislation that would have required a statewide evaluation of red-light camera systems.

As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported, Jones has been in office since 2009. Now, he is facing what could be the end of his political career.

The 44-year-old lawmaker is in the feds' hot seat, accused in an indictment of taking bribes in exchange for his promise to "oppose legislation that required the study" of red-light cameras outside of Chicago.

"This is the 11th Democrat – a high-ranking Democrat in state government – who's been indicted by the federal government in the last 10 years," said Illinois state House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Westchester).

Of those 11 – one other, state Sen. Martin Sandoval, pleaded guilty to similar red-light camera bribery charges in 2020. Sandoval died of COVID-19 a few months later.

The U.S. Attorney's office said in a filing Tuesday that in February 2019, Jones himself introduced Senate Bill 1297 – which would require the Illinois Department of Transportation to conduct a statewide study of red-light cameras and other automated traffic enforcement systems, and to propose any changes IDOT deemed necessary.

Five months later, Jones said he would protect one specific red-light camera from his own legislation, prosecutors alleged. In exchange for a bribe, Jones said he would oppose the IDOT study on red-light camera systems outside of Chicago and limit such studies to the city, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors did not name the red-light camera company, but SafeSpeed issued a statement late Tuesday indicating one of its former associates was involved.

The bribe requested from a person associated with the red-light camera vendor amounted to $5,000 for Jones and a job for one of his associates, prosecutors said. Jones said if the red-light camera vendor contributed the $5,000 by sponsoring an event, it would not have to be listed on Illinois campaign contribution reports, prosecutors said.

The person from whom Jones requested the bribe was actually cooperating with law enforcement, prosecutors said.

In addition, Jones was accused of lying to the FBI about the issue, prosecutors said.

"It's very embarrassing. And you know what? I take pride in my office, and I believe it - in the oath and what it stands for," Durkin said.

SafeSpeed issued this statement:

"SafeSpeed's goal has always been to provide a service that helps save lives. As new developments in federal investigations come to light, SafeSpeed 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. Their actions were clearly in their own self-interest and done without SafeSpeed's knowledge and undercut the important work SafeSpeed does.

"The criminal activity of a few individuals does not and should not reflect the values and integrity of SafeSpeed, its employees, and its clients. SafeSpeed built its business on integrity and ethics, and it holds its employees and representatives to the highest standards of conduct and ethics. SafeSpeed has long since terminated all contact with its former colleague and his associates.

"SafeSpeed remains committed to continuing to assist Illinois municipalities in improving traffic safety. SafeSpeed fully supports the federal government's investigation into public corruption and will continue to aid their efforts in any way it can."

Jones is the son of former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. The now-retired former lawmaker, issued this statement about his son Tuesday afternoon: 

"The charges brought against my son, Emil Jones III, do not reflect the man he is. Everyone knows he is an honest, hardworking legislator.

"I intend to fight with him and stand alongside him throughout this process."

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) issued the following statement: 

"I have asked for and expect to receive Senator Jones' resignation from his leadership post and committee chairmanship.

"These are grave allegations. Members of the Senate and all public officials need to hold themselves to a high ethical standard for the public to have trust and faith in our work."

Jones is scheduled to be arraigned Friday at 11 a.m.

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