Crestwood mayor resigns, pleads guilty to red-light camera bribery

Crestwood mayor resigns, pleads guilty to red-light camera bribery

Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta pleaded guilty to bribery, lying to federal authorities and tax charges as part of a pay-to-play red-light camera scheme. The cameras took $1 billion from Illinois drivers in a decade.

Louis Presta resigned as Crestwood mayor just before pleading guilty Nov. 17 to federal charges he accepted a $5,000 cash bribe from a red-light camera company representative to install another traffic camera and issue more red-light violation tickets from the existing camera.

The former mayor’s guilty plea comes more than a year after Presta was ensnared by the feds as part of a deferred prosecution agreement involving a former SafeSpeed LLC partner who was cooperating with investigators.

Presta, 71, who had served as mayor of Crestwood since 2013, now faces up to 2 ½ years in prison on counts of bribery and official misconduct, lying to the FBI and IRS, and tax charges.

“It has been an honor serving the residents of our Village as a Trustee and as Mayor,” Presta wrote in his resignation letter Nov. 16. “I will make myself available to my successor to provide a smooth transition.”

Presta’s admission marks him as the most recent political figure toppled in a wide-ranging federal bribery probe into Illinois’ adoption and spread of red-light cameras.

According to the plea agreement, Presta in 2018 worked closely with former SafeSpeed partner Omar Maani, whose firm sent video clips of potential red-light traffic violations to Crestwood officials for adjudication. SafeSpeed would then receive a portion of the proceeds from approved ticket payments.

Presta told Maani he would ensure the percentage of violations approved by city officials would remain high in exchange for a cash payment, the plea agreement said.

In January 2018, Presta admitted to soliciting Maani to donate to his campaign for Cook County commissioner by paying an invoice for an advertising firm. Presta sent Maani an invoice by email for $4,125 that same month.

“I thought that maybe you were worried about giving me money,” Presta told Maani Feb. 15, 2018, according to the plea agreement. “I thought maybe you could pay part of a bill there.”

Presta spoke to Maani over the phone Feb. 27, bragging about the higher percentage of violations approved from the previous week. He said, “We’re starting to get the numbers again … you got a new sheriff in town,” according to the plea agreement.

The following month, Maani agreed to give Presta $5,000 in cash in return for help installing another red-light camera in Crestwood.

Maani gave Presta an envelope with the promised payment March 7, 2018. Presta told Maani he would “do my best for you.”

Presta later lied to federal authorities about the $5,000 bribe on Sept. 26, 2019, even after he was shown a video of himself accepting the envelope. He told the feds it contained no money.

The former Crestwood mayor and 23-year public servant is the latest politician caught in a wide-ranging federal corruption probe into abuse of red-light cameras and other pay-to-play tactics. The cameras were responsible for issuing over $1 billion in tickets between 2008 and 2018, according to an Illinois Policy Institute investigation.

Earlier this year, John O’Sullivan, a former state lawmaker, one-time Worth Township supervisor and longtime ally of former Ilinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, pleaded guilty for his role in red-light camera scheme.

O’Sullivan admitted June 17 to conspiring with longtime political operative Patrick Doherty and Maani to pay a $4,000 bribe in return for official support from an Oak Lawn trustee to add red-light cameras to additional intersections.

Crestwood lawyer Burt Odelson said a special meeting has been set for Nov. 23 to pick an interim mayor who would serve through the next municipal election in April 2023.

Presta’s sentencing hearing is set for Feb. 23, 2022.

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