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Former LAZ parking exec due in court this month on fraud charge

A former executive for the firm that manages Chicago’s privatized parking meters has been charged with fraud; he's accused of helping to steer a contract worth $22 million for meters in Chicago to a favored company, records show. | Sun-Times file photo

A former executive for the firm that manages Chicago’s privatized parking meters is expected to appear in federal court later this month to answer to claims he helped steer a contract worth $22 million for meters in Chicago to a favored company, records show.

Prosecutors have filed an information charging Felipe Oropesa of Marietta, Ga., with one count of fraud. Oropesa, the former vice president for government relations for LAZ Parking, was set to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin on Wednesday, records show. His arraignment was instead rescheduled for Jan. 22.

Paul Kish, Oropesa’s attorney, declined to comment when contacted Wednesday morning by the Chicago Sun-Times. LAZ fired Oropesa in June after the Sun-Times first revealed that federal agents had been investigating the alleged kickbacks; charges were filed in December.

The FBI filed an affidavit in February to search two email accounts tied to Oropesa, who called the allegations “news to me” and declined to comment when a reporter first contacted him about the investigation.

Oropesa was tasked with overseeing LAZ Parking’s rollout of Chicago’s privatized meters after Chicago Parking Meters LLC leased the city’s parking meters for 75 years in exchange for an upfront payment of about $1.15 billion, according to court records.

The document used to charge Oropesa describes the company that was ultimately awarded the parking meter contract simply as “Company A.” The feds also chose not to name the businessman who allegedly paid the bribe when they filed the affidavit early last year. That document instead described him as a cooperating witness charged with paying a bribe to an official in another city on another parking meter deal.

But those details appear to fit the case against George Levey, whose Cale Parking Systems USA Inc. provided parking meters to Chicago Parking Meters LLC. Federal prosecutors in Oregon accused Levey in 2014 of bribing a Portland official and paying for his travel, golfing green fees and strip clubs in return for help landing parking meter deals. Levey is awaiting sentencing.

The feds now say that, after “Company A” was awarded the Chicago parking meter contract in January 2009, Oropesa told “Individual A” to make bribe payments by writing checks to a company formed by “Individual B,” an associate of Oropesa’s. Oropesa also allegedly sent “Individual A” a form contract to sign. It called for “Company A” to pay $90,000 to the business formed by “Individual B.”

The Sun-Times previously reported allegations by federal prosecutors that Oropesa’s wife had created a shell company in October 2009 to receive the so-called bribe payments. Over three months in 2010, the feds said the parking meter supplier’s company made four payments totaling $90,000 to that shell company.

But in July 2011, Oropesa’s wife allegedly wrote an email to the businessman whose company had paid the bribes that read: “Hi George. Do you need me to send you an invoice for 2011?” The businessman believed she was asking for more money, according to the feds’ affidavit. By then, the contract had apparently turned out to be far less lucrative than expected.

So the businessman allegedly wrote to Oropesa: “You and I will need to meet,” according to the affidavit. He allegedly complained that Chicago Parking Meters had “hammered us down in all areas” and eventually concluded, “a fair payout may have already happened.”

Oropesa allegedly tried to set up a meeting. But two weeks later, the businessman wrote back to offer a “reality update” and complained about the changes to the original deal.

“Obviously I am making this statement because the fee issued last year in my opinion is quite fair as a full payment,” the businessman allegedly wrote.

The feds showed up to search that businessman’s office shortly after he sent that email, according to the affidavit. That raid generated some publicity, and Oropesa did not respond to the businessman.

LAZ said in a statement Wednesday it is prepared to work with authorities.

“If the allegations are proven to be true, this former employee’s actions go against everything our company stands for, including integrity and trust in all business transactions,” LAZ spokeswoman Mary Brennan Coursey said in an emailed statement. “Our own internal investigation determined that this is an isolated case involving one employee, and should we be asked, we will fully cooperate with the investigation.”