11/26/2021Illinois Mayor Accepts Guilt In Red Light Camera Bribery Scheme
Crestwood, Illinois mayor admitted to taking bribes from co-founder of red light camera company Safespeed and cheating the IRS.
By Richard Diamond
After having taken a break during the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal courts have resumed processing the red light camera bribery cases involving Safespeed and municipalities in suburban Chicago, Illinois. Lou Presta, the mayor of Crestwood, last week became the latest in a growing list of photo enforcement felons (view full list).
Presta, 71, held firmly onto his job as mayor, village liquor commissioner and budget director until the day before phoning in to his hearing with US District Judge Thomas M. Durkin. The job remains in the family, however, as the replacement mayor, Kenneth Klein, is Presta's son-in-law. The village called a special board meeting Tuesday to select Klein to fill the $65,000-a-year job during an executive session, but the choice was made by village trustees who were all aligned with Presta's Crestwood United Party.
Presta now admits that he used his official position to work with red light camera operator Safespeed to generate revenue for the village and for himself. In a recorded 2018 cell phone call, Presta told Safespeed co-founder Omar Maani that he would ensure the percentage of photo tickets approved by the village would "creep up higher" in exchange for cash under the table. Safespeed made a direct donation of $2500 to Presta's campaign in June 2018, but Presta told Maani to disguise other payments as contributions from two local advertising companies to the "Friends of Lou Presta" account used for his campaign to become a Cook County commissioner. By laundering the funds through companies not directly linked to Safespeed, the public would have no way of uncovering the scheme.
"I thought that maybe you were worried about giving me money," Presta said during one of his recorded conversations with Maani about using the advertising firms for donations. "I thought maybe you could pay part of a bill there."
Two weeks later, Presta and Maani discussed the increased number of citations in Crestwood.
"We're starting to get the numbers again," Presta said on February 27, 2018. "You got a new sheriff in town."
On March 7, 2018, Maani offered Presta an envelope containing $5000 in cash if he would approve a second red light camera location for Crestwood. Presta agreed, saying he would "do my best for you." Presta acknowledged the shady nature of the funds, telling the photo enforcement vendor, "I can't even put it in the bank." Presta continued sending Maani weekly figures showing high numbers of approved photo tickets.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation cut a deal with Maani so that he was wearing a wire when the envelope was handed to Presta. Presta lied to FBI agents when they asked him about the envelope during a September 26, 2019, interview, saying the envelope was empty. Agents also knew that Presta earned $98,982 in 2015, even though he reported earning only $12,000 on his federal tax return. Presta filed no return in 2014, despite making $192,713. As part of his plea deal, Cresta will pay the Internal Revenue Service $72,307 in back taxes.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Presta faces between two and two-and-a-half years in prison for his crimes.