Bribery in Chicago: A City of Pay for Play

W._S._Gilbert_The_Duke_of_Plaza-Toro_BriberyChicago has never been able to quite shake off its sometimes unwarranted reputation as a corruption center in the USA. Take the case of a city insider who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail for taking bribes in a scandal that ironically involved jumping red light cameras. The appropriately named John Bills is not alone in the long list of high ranking and low ranking government officials who soon find that they are in need of an excellent criminal defense attorney. The scale of the case and the sentencing are fairly atypical. The court heart that Mr. Bills took up to $2 million in euphemistically labelled “gifts.” His services included sending large red light camera contracts to Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., a company based in Arizona.

If you are looking for the key ingredients of bribery then this case is as good as any in terms of demonstrating them. First of all you have someone in a position of authority who uses that authority to illegally secure pecuniary advantage in exchange for abusing his offices. There are elements of discriminatory and unlawful behavior which means that certain bids for tenders are never treated fairly for no other reason than the fact that they did not pay the authorizing officer a bribe. Such a crime reduces public confidence in the system and judges are particularly harsh in exercising their discretion. Of course it is possible to reduce the maximum sentence if there are mitigating factors. Some of those mitigating factors include an early confession, cooperation with the police, restitution, and examples of good public works.

The Dangers of Plea Bargaining

Although economic crimes tend to be a one-off venture; they can sometimes attract severe punishment. The culprits are otherwise without a criminal record and are unlikely to ever have another criminal record in their lives, not least because it is very difficult for them to get into a position of responsibility. However the punishment is usually focused on sending out a message that crime does not pay. Of course there are those who would argue that earning an average $200,000 every year whilst being looked after by the American prison system is not bad work if you can get it. However the fines and the determined attempts to recoup the ill-gotten gains means that the offender in this case is unlikely to find it a good bargain. That is not even considering the loss of professional face.

It is important to note that the bribery laws in Chicago can capture anyone regardless of whether they are elected into office or selected based on qualifications and experience. Judge Virginia Kendall who was sitting was particularly concerned about the erosion of the rule of law; noting that the faith in government which is lost is going to take a very long time to rebuild. If the attorney calls for an early play then the defendant is effectively placed in the hands of the court. Rarely (if at all) is a court sympathetic to someone who is in a position of authority and then abuses that authority to enrich themselves.

The Politics of Sentencing

Therefore a careful consideration of all the facts and the possibility of an acquittal must be taken into account when making this decision. As the Bills case has shown, the penalties can be quite stiff. Besides judges have to take into consideration the reputation that Chicago has earned. They do not want to be perceived or reported as being soft on crime. Because the people who normally commit these economic crimes are already well off when compared to the average citizen, public sympathy is not forthcoming, either.