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Feds link Chicago parking meter bribes to Oregon scandal

LAZ Parking workers post a sign. | Sun-Times file photo

A Florida businessman bribed his way into a $22 million contract to install 3,800 privatized parking meters in Chicago but later flipped on the man who helped him land the crooked deal, federal court records confirm.

George Levey of Cale Parking Systems USA Inc. admitted he paid LAZ Parking’s Felipe Oropesa $90,000 after Oropesa gave him inside information that helped him craft a bid for the Chicago contract, federal prosecutors in Oregon alleged in a court filing Wednesday.

Levey faces sentencing in Oregon next week for bribing a Portland official and paying for his travel, golfing green fees and strip clubs in return for help landing parking meter deals there. But the feds gave him credit for helping unravel the Chicago scam while recommending Levey serve 21 months in prison.

Oropesa, the former vice president for government relations for LAZ Parking, has been charged in Chicago with one count of wire fraud. His case is expected to be moved to Georgia, and he filed paperwork this week indicating he would plead guilty.

Oropesa oversaw LAZ Parking’s rollout of Chicago’s privatized parking meters after Chicago Parking Meters LLC leased the city’s meters for 75 years in exchange for an upfront payment of about $1.15 billion.

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Levey has previously been referred to in court documents as an unnamed cooperating witness who led an unnamed company. But details in those records seemed to point directly to Levey, whom the Oregon feds referred to Wednesday as “a businessman gone bad, nothing more and nothing less.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Block of Chicago wrote a letter last week to the prosecutor in Oregon, noting Levey met with federal agents and prosecutors “on several occasions” in New York and Chicago. Levey also testified before a federal grand jury in Chicago, the Oregon feds wrote.

“We likely would have been unable to charge Oropesa without Levey’s cooperation,” Block wrote in the letter filed Wednesday in Oregon.

Block wrote that Levey’s claims were corroborated by documents and “Oropesa’s eventual admissions.”

Oropesa’s attorney, Paul Kish, declined to comment last month and has not returned calls for comment this week. When the Chicago Sun-Times first contacted Oropesa in June about the investigation into the Chicago bribes, Oropesa called it “news to me.”

But the feds raided Levey’s offices in August 2011, analyzed his records and began to suspect Levey had also bribed officials in Chicago and Colorado, records show. Levey explained away the situation in Colorado. However, he allegedly told federal prosecutors in Oregon in February 2014 that he had bribed Oropesa to get the Chicago contract.

After Cale landed the Chicago contract, Oropesa told Levey to make bribe payments by writing checks to a company formed by an “Individual B,” according to Oropesa’s charging document in Chicago. An affidavit filed a year ago by the feds indicates “Individual B” is Oropesa’s wife.

Oropesa allegedly sent Levey a form contract to sign calling for Cale to pay $90,000 to the company formed by Oropesa’s wife in October 2009, Landmark Sales & Marketing. Over three months in 2010, the feds said four payments were made totaling $90,000 to that shell company.

Records indicate Levey later received an email from the Oropesas that read: “Hi George. Do you need me to send you an invoice for 2011?” Levey believed they were asking for more money, records indicate. By then, the contract had apparently turned out to be far less lucrative than expected.

So Levey allegedly wrote back: “You and I will need to meet.” 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, Levey allegedly 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,” Levey allegedly wrote.

The feds’ raid on Levey’s office occurred shortly after that email was sent, apparently putting an end to the scheme.