Tony Ragucci, a former cop and longtime mayor of Oakbrook Terrace, pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges stemming from a sprawling bribery investigation involving red-light cameras.
Ragucci, 66, was charged in a criminal information made public earlier this week with one count each of honest services wire fraud and filing a false tax return. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, but sources have said he is cooperating with investigators and expected to plead guilty at a later date.
A longtime police officer who was elected mayor of Oakbrook Terrace in 2009, Ragucci is the latest suburban politician to be indicted on charges he accepted cash to allow red-light cameras into his town. He resigned from office more than two years ago amid revelations of the federal investigation.
Among those charged so far in the same overall probe are former state Sen. Martin Sandoval; former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta; John O’Sullivan, the former Worth Township supervisor and state lawmaker; and political operative Patrick Doherty.
Sources told the Tribune that new charges against others in the investigation were expected soon.
Ragucci’s arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert was held by telephone due to ongoing COVID-19 protocols at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.
Ragucci spoke only briefly to acknowledge that he understood the proceedings and the conditions of his release on a recognizance bond. His not guilty plea was entered by his attorney, Michael D. Krejci.
Prosecutors accused Ragucci of accepting thousand of dollars after the state in 2017 let his suburb put red-light cameras at a busy, but arguably safe corner outside a west suburban mall.
According to federal prosecutors, the year before the cameras became operational, Ragucci was paid off as part of a scheme in which the red-light camera firm paid a 14% commission on revenue generated on the cameras to another firm it had hired as a “sales consultant” to get village business. That consulting firm’s officials then paid a portion of the commission to Ragucci, first $3,500 a month, then an amount based on how much cash the cameras generated, prosecutors alleged.
The then-mayor also directly accepted $12,500 cash from an official of the red-light camera firm as contracts were renewed, unaware that the official was secretly working with federal investigators on a wide-ranging corruption probe, prosecutors alleged.
The alleged payments were being made at a time the Tribune was investigating how Ragucci and red-light camera firm SafeSpeed were able to get cameras installed at the busy but relatively safe intersection of Illinois Route 83 at 22nd Street, a corner shared by Oakbrook Terrace and neighbor Oak Brook.
Oak Brook officials fought the cameras, saying the corner didn’t need them, and the Illinois Department of Transportation had the final call because the cameras would be put on a state route. IDOT had previously deemed the corner too safe for cameras, then there were even fewer crashes, yet somehow IDOT reversed course to allow the cameras.
That reversal came after Sandoval, the then-powerful head of the Senate Transportation Committee, intervened on SafeSpeed’s behalf, as did another state senator, Tom Cullerton.
Sandoval, who died of COVID-19 in December 2020, admitted to accepting bribes from the SafeSpeed official, Omar Maani, who at the time was secretly working with federal investigators. Cullerton later admitted to taking part in an unrelated ghost payroll scheme and awaits sentencing.
The charges against Ragucci came the same month that federal prosecutors pushed for a two-year sentence for Presta, the former Crestwood mayor, who admitted to taking a cash-stuffed envelope from Maani in exchange for Presta’s support of lucrative SafeSpeed cameras there.
SafeSpeed and its CEO, Nikki Zollar, have denied any wrongdoing, saying that any bribes offered by Maani occurred without the company’s knowledge.
In a statement released after Ragucci’s arraignment Thursday, SafeSpeed said the company “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 emailed statement read. “The criminal activity of a few individuals does not and should not reflect the values and integrity of SafeSpeed, its employees, and its clients.”