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Illinois Mayor Accepts Guilt in Red Light Camera Bribery Plan

By Richard Diamond

After a hiatus during the Covid-19 pandemic, federal courts have resumed processing the red light camera bribery cases involving Safespeed and suburban communities in Chicago, Illinois. Lou Presta, the Mayor of Crestwood, became the latest in a growing list of photo enforcement offenders last week (view full list).

Presta, 71, held on to his job as mayor, village liquor officer, and housekeeper until the day before his hearing with U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin. The job stays in the family, however, as Deputy Mayor Kenneth Klein is Presta’s son-in-law. The village convened a special board meeting Tuesday to select Klein to fill the $ 65,000-per-year job during a board meeting, but the choice was made by village trustees, all of whom were affiliated with Presta’s Crestwood United Party.

Presta now admits that he has used his official position to work with red light cameraman Safespeed to generate income for the village and for himself. In a recorded cell phone call in 2018, Presta told Safespeed co-founder Omar Maani that he would ensure that the percentage of photo tickets approved by the village in exchange for cash under the table would “get higher”. Safespeed made a direct donation of $ 2,500 to Presta’s campaign in June 2018, but Presta asked Maani to disguise payments other than contributions from two local advertising companies to the Friends of Lou Presta account used for his campaign, to become a Cook County Commissioner. With the funds laundering by companies not directly affiliated with Safespeed, there would be no way for the public to expose the system.

“I thought you might be worried about giving me money,” said Presta during one of his taped conversations with Maani about using the advertising companies 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,” said Presta on February 27, 2018. “They have a new sheriff in town.”

On March 7, 2018, Maani Presta offered an envelope with $ 5,000 in cash if he would approve a second location for a red light camera for Crestwood. Presta agreed and said he would “do my best for you”. Admitting the seedy nature of the funds, Presta told the photo-inspection provider, “I can’t even put it on the bank.” Presta continued to send Maani weekly numbers showing a high number of photo tickets approved.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation made a deal with Maani so that he carried a wire when the envelope was delivered to Presta. Presta lied to FBI agents when they asked about the envelope during an interview on Sept. 26, 2019, saying the envelope was empty. Agents also knew that Presta made $ 98,982 in 2015, despite only making $ 12,000 on his federal tax return. Presta didn’t submit a return in 2014 despite making $ 192,713. As part of its plea deal, Cresta will pay the Internal Revenue Service $ 72,307 in back taxes.

According to the guidelines of the federal conviction, Presta faces a prison sentence of two to two and a half years for his crimes.

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