Illinois State Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, in 2020.
Five thousand dollars.
That may seem like a lot of money — to a junior high school student who baby-sits or mows neighborhood lawns for extra cash.
For an Illinois legislator, $5,000 should be no big deal. Chump change.
But that and a vow to employ an unnamed associate is pretty much all it took for State Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, to break the law, according to the feds.
Let’s be clear: No elected leader should seek or take a bribe of any amount. But the paltry kickback Jones was allegedly promised in a scheme with the red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC is indicative of how easily some of our elected leaders can be bought off to do the wrong thing.
No wonder most Americans don’t trust politicians. Less than half the adults in the United States — 44% — say they have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in people who hold or are running for public office, according to a 2021 Gallup poll.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of other examples that illustrate why many Chicago area residents feel let down by their elected leaders.
Jones, the son of former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., isn’t the only politician who has been snared in the federal investigation of SafeSpeed deals, Sun-Times reporters Jon Seidel and Tina Sfondeles reminded us. Other politicians who have faced charges related to SafeSpeed include the late ex-state Sen. Martin Sandoval, former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, former Worth Township Supervisor John O’Sullivan and former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci.
Just two months ago, Jones III’s former colleague, Tom Cullerton, was sentenced to a year in prison in an embezzlement case.
Then in July, former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), a member of the most prominent political family in Chicago, was sent behind bars for four months for lying to banking regulators and filing false income tax returns.
A weekly overview of opinions, analysis and commentary on issues affecting Chicago, Illinois and our nation by outside contributors, Sun-Times readers and the CST Editorial Board.
Jones III agreed to protect SafeSpeed LLC from legislation in the Illinois General Assembly in exchange for the money and the job, federal prosecutors said. Then, he allegedly lied about doing so to the FBI.
Given that the charges filed against Jones III were written up in a document known as an information, he is expected to plead guilty.
Jones III has yet to resign his seat in the Legislature, but on Wednesday he gave up his committee chair and vice chair spots and his position as an assistant majority leader, the Sun-Times’ Mitchell Armentrout reported.
The elder Jones said the charges filed against his son “do not reflect the man he is.”
But if the younger Jones does eventually admit to the wrongdoing, the plea will make clear how he is part of the corruption problem.
The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.