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‘New sheriff’ headed to jail? Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta resigns, pleads guilty in red-light camera bribery scheme

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

Louis Presta
Louis Presta
Rich Hein / Sun-Times file

The man who led southwest suburban Crestwood for nearly a decade admitted Wednesday not only that he took a secret $5,000 cash payment from a red-light camera company’s representative, but that he did so while promising tickets there would “creep up higher.”

Louis Presta even bragged about the higher percentage of red-light traffic violations approved by Crestwood and issued to drivers in February 2018, telling the person with an ownership stake in SafeSpeed LLC, “You got a new sheriff in town.”

Those details were revealed when Presta, 71, pleaded guilty Wednesday to corruption charges and told U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin he resigned his position with the village Tuesday night. Crestwood lawyer Burt Odelson said a special meeting has been set for Nov. 23 to try to pick an acting mayor who would serve through the next municipal election in April 2023.

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

Presta’s guilty plea comes more than a year after he was charged in a federal indictment with bribery and official misconduct, lying to the FBI and IRS, and tax charges. Presta pleaded guilty to the bribery and official misconduct count, as well as filing a false tax return, and he could face two or more years in prison at his sentencing hearing, set for Feb. 23.

Presta admitted filing false tax returns for 2015 and 2018, and that he failed to file a tax return for 2014, causing a loss to the IRS of more than $67,000 and a loss to the Illinois Department of Revenue of roughly $3,400.

SafeSpeed has not been charged with wrongdoing, and a spokeswoman stressed Wednesday that the person who paid Presta did not do so on the company’s behalf.

“The company had no knowledge of his criminal conduct, did not authorize it, and does not condone it,” she said in a statement.

Former SafeSpeed partner Omar Maani was charged in 2020 with a bribery conspiracy and entered into a deferred-prosecution deal, agreeing to cooperate with the feds.

SafeSpeed sent video clips of possible traffic violations from its red-light cameras to Crestwood officials, and Crestwood officials decided which violations to approve, according to Presta’s plea agreement. SafeSpeed would then get part of the proceeds when drivers paid their tickets, it said.

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

In January 2018, Presta asked Maani to donate to his campaign for Cook County commissioner, suggesting Maani pay an invoice from an advertising firm. That same month, Presta sent Maani a $4,125 invoice by email from a second advertising firm.

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

It said Maani confirmed the next day his plans to give Presta cash to pay the invoice. It also said Maani asked Presta to make sure traffic-violation approvals would “creep up higher,” and Presta agreed to do so.

On Feb. 27, 2018, Presta spoke to Maani by phone and bragged about the higher violation percentages 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.

During a meeting the next month, Maani confirmed plans to give Presta $5,000 in cash but also asked for help installing another red-light camera in Crestwood. Then, on March 7, 2018, Maani gave Presta an envelope containing $5,000 in cash and asked again about the additional camera, the plea agreement stated.

Presta told Maani he would “do my best for you,” it said. Then, later in the meeting, it said Maani asked Presta to not tell anyone about the $5,000.

“Oh, no,” Presta said, according to the plea agreement. “I’m glad nobody else is here … I can’t even put it in the bank.”

Presta went on to lie to the feds about the $5,000 on Sept. 26, 2019, even after he was shown a recording of himself accepting the envelope, the plea agreement stated. He told the feds it contained no money.