Former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci pleaded guilty Monday to participating in a red-light camera kickback scheme with a mob-connected businessman and his stepsons that allegedly funneled thousands in cash payments to the mayor in exchange for a lucrative cut of the town’s ticket proceeds.
Ragucci, 66, entered his guilty plea to one count each of honest-services wire fraud and filing a false tax return in a video conference hearing before U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman. He faces up to about five years in prison under preliminary guidelines, but prosecutors have agreed to offer a substantial break at sentencing if he continues to cooperate in the probe.
After Assistant U.S. Attorney James Durkin told the judge he didn’t foresee Ragucci’s cooperation wrapping up “anytime soon,” the judge set a status hearing for Aug. 15
A longtime police officer who was elected mayor of Oakbrook Terrace in 2009, Ragucci is the latest to be convicted in a sweeping federal investigation into bribes and kickbacks involving red-light cameras installed by SafeSpeed LLC, which generates millions of dollars in fines from motorists each year in nearly two dozen Chicago suburbs.
Ragucci resigned from office more than two years ago amid revelations of the federal investigation. When asked by the judge what he previously did for a living, Ragucci responded, “I was the mayor of Oakbrook Terrace, but that was elected. The last job I had was a police officer.”
According to Ragucci’s plea agreement with prosecutors, the then-mayor colluded with Dennis Colluci, whose company acted as a sales representative for red light camera company SafeSpeed LCC as it sought to expand to new territory.
Their deal called for Colucci’s company, DSC Enterprises, to receive a whopping 14% of the revenue that SafeSpeed generated from its agreement with Oakbrook Terrace, according to Ragucci’s 26-page plea.
After the money started flowing, Colucci — a onetime associate of notorious Outfit hit man Harry Aleman — agreed to pay $3,500 a month in cash bribes in return for the mayor’s continued support of SafeSpeed-operated cameras in his town, according to the plea.
Before he died in January 2018 at the age of 78, Dennis Colucci met with Ragucci and his stepsons, James and Joseph Colucci, to discuss the arrangement, telling the brothers to “continue making monthly payments to Ragucci” after his death, according to court records.
Ragucci, meanwhile, was also soliciting cash payments from SafeSpeed co-founder and executive Omar Maani in exchange for renewing the company’s annual contract with the town, the indictment alleged.
Unbeknownst to Ragucci and the Coluccis, Maani had started secretly cooperating with federal investigators shortly before Dennis Colucci’s death, according to the indictment. Sources told the Tribune that Maani made numerous recordings of conversations with Ragucci and the Colucci brothers.
The Colucci brothers allegedly continued to pay the mayor each month until September 2019, when the investigation went public with a series of FBI raids.
In all, Ragucci accepted about $88,000 in illicit funds from the Colucci’s and Maani over the three years of the scheme, according to his plea agreement.
Investigators seized $67,000 from Ragucci’s home in 2019, about $7,000 of which was in “marked bills” that had been provided to Maani by law enforcement during the undercover investigation, according to prosecutors. He also must pay about $7,000 in unpaid taxes to the federal and state government.
James Colucci, 52, of Lisle, and Joseph Colucci, 47, of Mokena, were indicted earlier this month on four counts each of wire fraud.
They are scheduled to be arraigned later Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sunil R. Harjani
Maani, meanwhile, struck a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office that could see bribery conspiracy charges against him dismissed after his cooperation is complete.
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 to the Tribune after the Colucci brothers were charged, a company spokeswoman said “all outside sales consultants were associates of (Maani) and were retained based on his recommendation.”
“Their actions were clearly in their own self-interest and done without SafeSpeed’s knowledge and undercut the important work SafeSpeed does,” the company has previously said. “The criminal activity of a few individuals does not and should not reflect the values and integrity of SafeSpeed, its employees, and its clients.”
The sprawling case also has ensnared then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval, the then-powerful head of the Senate Transportation Committee, Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, and several longtime Democratic political operatives.
It’s unclear from the charges how much money ultimately flowed to DSC Enterprises as part of the scheme, but according to available data, Oakbrook Terrace’s red-light cameras generated nearly $17 million in revenue from 2017 to April 2021. Based on the amount of that money that went to SafeSpeed, the cut for DSC would have been about $900,000.
News reports and sources indicate Dennis Colucci’s ties to Outfit figures went back decades, though he never was charged with any mob-related activity.
In May 1977, Dennis Colucci was one of four alibi witnesses who testified on behalf of Aleman, one of the Outfit’s most feared killers who was on trial for the 1972 slaying of William Logan, a truck dispatcher and Teamsters union member.
State campaign records show that in the years Dennis Colucci was operating as a SafeSpeed sales rep, he and his company were spreading campaign donations around to politicians in many areas where the company was seeking to install cameras, including Oakbrook Terrace, Stone Park, Melrose Park and Berwyn.
In 2017, DSC Enterprises also made two donations totaling $500 to the Westchester First Party, which was supporting a slate of candidates for village trustee and other political positions in suburban Westchester, records show.
Then-Westchester police Chief Steven Stelter is still featured on SafeSpeed’s website extolling the effectiveness of red-light cameras in reducing vehicle accidents.
On the day the federal grand jury returned the indictment against the Coluccis, the Tribune reported that the state had revoked the operating permit for Oakbrook Terrace’s cameras, at Illinois Highway 83 and 22nd Street.
The Illinois Department of Transportation said the suburb hadn’t followed state requirements on submitting periodic reports documenting that the cameras had improved safety — requirements that the Tribune previously found IDOT had long failed to enforce.
Ragucci, before his indictment, argued the cameras were about safety. And the new mayor, Paul Esposito, said the same thing in a news release Thursday. An intersection that sees nearly 200,000 vehicles pass a year, he said, had 33 crashes in 2017, 39 in 2018, 31 in 2019 and 17 in 2020, a year in which the pandemic lessened commuting.