Former State Senator Emil Jones Jr. has vowed to fight for his son, Emil Jones III, who this week was charged with bribery and criminal counts tied to his dealings with a speed camera company.
The charges threaten to damage the political career of Jones III, a member of the Illinois Senate, who is likely to win a fifth term representing the 14th Legislative District, as he runs unopposed in the November 8 General Election.
His father, Jones Jr, who served 35 years in the Illinois General Assembly and mentored former President Barack Obama before he won the White House, said in a statement the bribery charges “do not reflect the man he is.”
“Everyone knows he is an honest, hardworking legislator,” the former Senate president said. “I intend to fight with him and stand alongside him throughout this process.”
Federal prosecutors point to a Senate bill, which Jones III introduced in 2019. That bill required a statewide study of automated traffic law enforcement systems, including red light cameras. Prosecutors said Jones III promised SafeSpeed that he would limit the scope of the study to Chicago, “thereby excluding from study” the systems “in numerous other municipalities” served by red light camera company.
Federal prosecutors also said Jones III allegedly told SafeSpeed partner Omar Maani that he would protect the company from legislation in the Illinois General Assembly in exchange for $5,000 and a job and an unspecified payment to an unnamed associate identified as “Individual B.”
Federal prosecutors said Jones III then lied to the FBI about his role in the alleged scheme on September 24, 2019.
Senate records show the bill passed out of the Transportation Committee on November 12, 2019, but was never voted on by the full Senate.
The bill from the start was reportedly viewed by some lawmakers as a “fetcher bill” or legislation that wasn’t going anywhere but was intended to “fetch” campaign contributions.
Jones is also charged with arranging the deal through interstate commerce by using a Google email account. Maani has also been charged, but in 2020 he struck a deferred-prosecution agreement before cooperating with prosecutors in the case.
SafeSpeed has not been charged with wrongdoing. The company has portrayed Maani as a rogue actor and said in a statement that it “remains both shocked and saddened that one of its former colleagues was engaged in criminal conduct.”
A Chicago native and graduate of Christian High School in Palos Heights, Jones III attended Chicago State University and Robert Morris College in Chicago. After his father retired in 2009, Jones III was appointed to fill the seat, following in his father’s footsteps.
Jones III serves on eight Illinois Senate committees, including Public Safety, where he is a vice-chair. Jones III is also chair of the Licensed Activities committee.
He represents the 14th Senate District, which encompasses Far South Side neighborhoods and south suburban Cook County, including Alsip, Oak Forest, Crestwood, and Blue Island. After redistricting, the district will stretch into other swaths of the southwest suburbs, such as Orland Park and Oak Forest.
In the past two years, Jones III has introduced at least 73 bills in the Illinois Senate. They range from SB2282, which calls for a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, to SJR36, which urges the Office of the Attorney General to establish a task force to examine the creation of a statewide conviction integrity unit within its office.
Jones is the second Illinois state senator to face charges related to a red light camera company.
In 2020, then-Senator Martin Sandoval, another Chicago Democrat, was indicted on similar corruption charges related to a red light camera company identified as SafeSpeed LLC, following a raid on his Statehouse office. He later resigned from office and pleaded guilty to bribery and tax evasion.
He agreed to cooperate with a continuing investigation in exchange for delayed sentencing. He died in December 2020 of complications from COVID-19 and never served time in prison.
Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, issued a statement Tuesday calling for Jones to step down from his leadership position and committee chairmanship, but stopped short of asking for his resignation from office.
“These are grave allegations,” Harmon said in the statement.
“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.”
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, issued a more scathing statement, noting that Jones has joined a long list of Democratic elected officials to face federal corruption charges.
“The Democratic Party of Illinois has become an organized crime family whose only purpose is to shake down Illinois taxpayers,” Durkin said. “Today’s indictment once again shows Illinois residents why Democrats refuse to pass real ethics reform; they are too corrupt.”
This report was supplemented with information from the Capitol News Service.