Chicago Democrat and Illinois state Senator Emil Jones III was indicted on bribery charges Tuesday, accused of taking bribes from a red light camera company that placed revenue raising cameras throughout the state.
Jones is also charged with lying to the FBI during the investigation into the red-light camera bribes.
The younger Jones has served in the legislature since 2009, rose to become a deputy majority leader in the senate, and is the son of former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr.
Jones was indicted Tuesday in the bribery scheme with red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC and for making false statements to the FBI during his Sept. 24, 2019, interview with the Bureau, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Insiders say that Jones intends to plead guilty. If he does so, he becomes the second member of the state senate to plead guilty to a federal crime this year, since Democrat Thomas Cullerton was indicted over no-show jobs in 2019.
The investigation into the red-light camera bribes has been extensive. Prosecutors have filed charges against a growing list of legislators, including, Sen. Martin Sandoval (who died in 2020), former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, former Worth Township Supervisor John O’Sullivan, and former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci. SafeSpeed official Omar Maani was also indicted.
Jones’ father, Emil Jones Jr., a longtime political fixer from Chicago and the man who is considered Barack Obama’s “political godfather,” said that the charges against his son do not “reflect” the younger Jones’ character.
“The charges brought against my son, Emil Jones III, do not reflect the man he is. Everyone knows he is an honest, hardworking legislator. I intend to fight with him and stand alongside him throughout this process,” the elder Jones, now retired, said, according to ABC 7.
The newly indicted state senator’s father has a long history in Illinois politics. Emil Jones, Jr. was first elected to the state House in 1972 and by 2003 he was unanimously selected as Senate Minority Leader and Sen. President, a position he held until he retired in 2009.
According to a CBS report from 2008, the senior Jones was also “indispensable to Barack Obama’s career.”
Indeed, if it weren’t for Jones, Obama would not likely had made a good candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004, which set him up to turn around and run for President of the United States in 2008.
To launch his political career, Obama engineered the ouster of Democrat incumbent Alice Palmer by bumping her from the ticket over petition signature violations. But for his first few years in the state senate, he was little else but a back bencher with few accomplishments. That is, until Emil Jones began boosting Obama’s position.
As The New Republic reported in 2008, Jones pulled together a series of bills that Obama had nothing at all to do with but were destined for easy passage, and he signed Obama’s name to them. They all passed, especially a high-profile healthcare bill, and Obama suddenly looked as if he was a mover and a shaker in the state capitol in Springfield.
As CBS added, Jones was accused of “bill-jacking,” which the station defined as “taking issues that other senators had been working on and giving them to Obama.”
At the time, State Sen. Donne Trotter thought he would be named chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee but, instead, the job went to Obama thanks to Jones’ “bill-jacking” which placed Obama’s name as the lead on the health bill, despite that Obama had nothing at all to do with the writing or passage of the bill.
Jones also assisted Obama in getting big union dollars and major endorsements. If it weren’t for Emil Jones, Jr., Barack Obama would not have seemed like a major political presence in the state senate, a perception that made him appear ideal when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004.
Jones wasn’t just Obama’s “godfather,” either. He was a major patronage practitioner in notoriously corrupt Chicago. CBS added:
When Jones married a state employee, she suddenly got a 60 percent raise. His son got a state job that wasn’t advertised to the public. A nephew and stepson got computer consulting jobs from a college that received a $4.5 million grant for computing needs. He has blocked bills sponsored by legislators who challenge him and dug up an obscure Senate rule to reverse the passage of a consumer-friendly measure opposed by electric companies that had donated to his campaign.
As The New Republic quipped in its 2008 summary of Jones’ connection to Obama, their relationship was “complicated.”