Sen. Emil Jones III pleads not guilty to federal bribery charges

Sen. Emil Jones III talks to reporters on January 19, 2020.
Sen. Emil Jones III talks to reporters on January 19, 2020.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 5:01 PM CDT
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QUINCY (WGEM) - Illinois state Sen. Emil Jones III pleaded not guilty to federal bribery charges Friday morning.

The Chicago Democrat is charged with allegedly accepting bribes to change a proposal in 2019 that required state traffic studies for red light cameras and lying to the FBI about it.

The son of former Senate President Emil Jones Jr. was charged Tuesday for allegedly accepting bribes to change a proposal in 2019 that required state traffic studies for red light cameras. Federal prosecutors found that Jones told a leader from SafeSpeed LLC that he would protect the company and the individual from legislation concerning the red-light cameras in exchange for $5,000 and a job for another individual.

Jones chose to waive his constitutional right to be indicted by a grand jury and faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for the felony charges. The senator was released on an unsecured $10,000 bond subject to conditions by the court.

Attorneys Reggie Harris and Zeke Katz said Jones does not plan to litigate the case in the media, but the senator wanted to state publicly that he maintains his innocence of the charges.

“The Senator respectfully asks the public not to rush to judgment,” Harris and Katz stated. “Ours is a legal system founded upon the principle that persons accused of crimes are innocent unless and until proven guilty by competent evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Jones introduced a plan in February 2019 to require the Illinois Department of Transportation to conduct a statewide study of red light cameras, or automated traffic law enforcement systems. The proposal, Senate Bill 1297, called for IDOT to report the overall operation, usage and regulation of red light cameras. It also required the state agency to propose recommendations for the cameras.

Prosecutors wrote that Jones agreed to oppose legislation requiring the study of red light cameras located outside of Chicago and would limit any proposals regarding IDOT’s study and recommendations surrounding the cameras in Chicago. Law enforcement argues that Jones accepted a $5,000 payment and an unnamed job for a colleague in return for blocking the red light camera legislation for SafeSpeed.

Gov. JB Pritzker called for Jones to resign from office Thursday. However, Jones has only resigned from his role as Senate Deputy Majority Leader and stepped down from chairing a committee. Emil Jones Jr. has also stated that the charges brought against his son do not reflect the man he is. Jones Jr. plans to stand alongside him throughout the legal process.

Pritzker reiterated Friday afternoon that integrity in public service is extremely important. The governor said state leaders need to demonstrate that they are acting appropriately and following the rules.

“When people are accused of very serious misdeeds, in one case and indictment, it seems very appropriate to me to allow the Senate to make a decision about how they will react and then for me to comment on what I think should happen,” Pritzker said.

Senate President Don Harmon demanded that Jones resign from their leadership posts. Spokesman John Patterson said Thursday that the gravity of the accusations required immediate action and consequences.

“Now it is up to these individuals and their constituents to determine their futures,” Patterson said.

Jones is among 11 current and former state lawmakers charged with federal crimes since 2019. The 44-year-old is the latest official to be charged in the bribery scheme with SafeSpeed, including former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, former Worth Township Supervisor John O’Sullivan and former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci. The late Sen. Martin Sandoval was the most recent lawmaker to be charged in the scheme.

A status update is scheduled for November 4. Although, Jones is running unopposed for re-election to his Senate seat on November 8.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) filed a bill Friday to hold public officials accountable for corruption under the SAFE-T Act. Durkin said his proposal would charge Jones and other politicians with state crimes and keep them off the streets in order to prevent votes on corrupt legislation.

“The charges brought against State Senator Emil Jones highlight the massive criminal organization that masquerades as the Democrat Party of Illinois,” Durkin said. “Democrats’ passage of the SAFE-T Act to coddle criminals makes even more sense now that so many members of their party have been charged criminally.”

Durkin’s proposal would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023, if it receives enough support to pass out of both chambers and a signature from Pritzker.

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