By Joe Boyle
The shadow surrounding the red-light camera investigation now extends into Oak Lawn as a local political figure was indicted Friday on federal charges that he paid bribes to a relative of a village trustee to get the red-light cameras installed there.
Patrick Doherty, 64, of Palos Heights, was charged on Friday with three counts of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery. He is indicted on federal charges that he conspired to pay bribes to a relative of an Oak Lawn trustee in 2017 to increase the number of SafeSpeed red light cameras in the village.
However, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said she was unaware of the investigation of the trustee and the attempt to increase red-light cameras in the village.
“We are shocked and appalled by what’s being reported as the alleged actions strike at the very core of the public’s trust in government,” Bury said. “They cannot and will not be tolerated.”
Doherty has served as the chief of staff to Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, who also serves as the mayor of the village of McCook. Tobolski is also under scrutiny by investigators. Federal agents conducted a raid on Tobolski’s office in September that included McCook and other southwest suburbs.
Working as a sales agent for SafeSpeed, Doherty had a contract to operate cameras in Oak Lawn since 2014. He was also known for assisting lawyers who are trying to get nominating petitions set up to get the names of elected judges on the ballot, according to published reports.
Bury had first signed a deal with SafeSpeed in 2014 and said at the time the goal was to install 10 cameras at five intersections. The collections from the driving offenses were plentiful. However, Bury and some members of the Oak Lawn Village Board decided against continuing to use them.
The mayor mentioned during a village board meeting on Nov. 12 that the board intended to end red-light cameras.
She noted that the board had already decided not to renew the contract with SafeSpeed company that has been operating red-light cameras at 95 th Street and Pulaski Road, and 111 th Street and Cicero Avenue. The contract ceased at the end of 2019.
The mayor suggested that the board also not renew its contract with RedFlex, the second company operating red-light cameras in the village. Village attorney Paul O’Grady said that contract has nearly two years left.
“I would ask the board not to accept any new proposals for red-light cameras to replace the SafeSpeed ones, and do the same when the RedFlex contract ends. We could make Oak Lawn a red-light-free zone,” said the mayor during that November meeting.
The investigation into SafeSpeed cameras had become public at that point.
The mayor said that when the cameras were implemented that it would provide better safety. However, she added that there is only a slight benefit in having them.
Bury reiterated that she does not know who the Oak Lawn trustee is that is mentioned in the investigation. The indictment report does not state if it is a current or former Oak Lawn trustee.
According to the investigation, Doherty conspired with employees of SafeSpeed that he would make payments of up to $4,000 for the cameras in Oak Lawn.
“Just make sure we get the…make sure we get the (expletive deleted) thing, the contract,” Doherty reportedly told officials with SafeSpeed.
Payments, according to investigators, was scheduled to go to the relative in $500 installments over an eight-week span. To keep the reason for the payments secret, the money would be distributed from a company in which Doherty worked for, according to investigators.
The red-light cameras investigation has expanded to involve more local public officials. Former state Sen. Martin Sandoval resigned and pled guilty last month to bribery and tax charges for taking $20,000 in campaign contributions. He also admitted to accepting $70,000 in cash from a SafeSpeed co-owner who was actually working with federal agents.
Sandoval was the head of the transportation committee. His sentencing date has yet to be determined.
Bury did not have much more to say about the investigation, but added the village will be looking into it.
“I have just opened our own investigation into the matter and every resource at our disposal will be deployed. Our residents deserve nothing less,” Bury said.