Small suburban park project draws big-time players swept up in federal corruption probe
One contractor overseeing improvements to Summit’s Legion Park is believed to be a federal informant. Another was named in a search warrant.
Legion Park in southwest suburban Summit is a small neighborhood park where kids and adults can come together to play, walk the dog or relax under a gazebo.
Its most distinctive feature is a newly refurbished World War II anti-tank cannon that serves as the centerpiece of a veterans memorial.
Yet somehow, this otherwise unremarkable block of green space also became a nexus point between a number of people caught up in an ongoing federal corruption probe in the southwest suburbs.
Among them is Burr Ridge businessman Omar Maani, who is believed to be cooperating with authorities as they zero in on local and state governmental officials and contractors, among others.
Since a series of federal raids in late September, Maani’s name has been publicized mostly because of his ties to SafeSpeed, LLC, a Chicago red-light camera company that has emerged as one focus of the federal probe.
Maani is the unnamed “CW-1,” short for Cooperating Witness, who federal authorities say played a role in bribing former state Sen. Martin Sandoval of Chicago to block legislation harmful to the red-light camera industry and to influence the Illinois Department of Transportation about camera locations. Maani has been one of four main investors in SafeSpeed.
Garnering less public attention has been Maani’s other role as the president of a development company, Presidio Capital LLC, that also isbeing scrutinized by federal authorities over its construction of government-subsidized townhomes in Summit.
It was in that capacity that Maani and his partner, Sunggoo Sam Joh, got involved in a 2018 makeover of Legion Park.
Presidio, which lists its official address as a mail box at a UPS store in Hinsdale,was one of the companies hired by the Summit Park District to oversee the park renovations.
It was a small job, estimated to cost only about $140,000.
But records reviewed by the Sun-Times indicate the final price tag may have topped $200,000 – and that doesn’t include legal fees now being expended to defend the park district over its handling of the project.
The Legion Park project is the subject of a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court alleging Maani’s business pocketed tens of thousands of dollars that should have gone to a Joliet landscaping firm that performed much of the actual work. The suit also accuses the park district of contracting irregularities that resulted in a failure to protect subcontractors on the job.
The park district cited that ongoing litigation to explain why it won’t answer Sun-Times’ questions about the project, including how Presidio came to be involved.
Also left unexplained is the role played by Simo “Sam” Krneta, who runs Renovation Associates, Inc., a La Grange Park company that describes itself as “general contractors” and “consultants.”
Krneta is a pal of recently resigned Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, whose offices were raided by federal agents last fall. Tobolski is believed to be a target of their investigation, although neither he nor Krneta has been charged publicly with any crime.
Krneta and Renovation Associates were both listed in a federal search warrant seeking records from the village of McCook, where Tobolski was mayor before resigning that position as well.
Over the years Krneta has handled construction projects for McCook, including as construction manager for the sprawling public sports complex called The MAX in that tiny suburb. Krneta later renovated a restaurant in the village-operated complex that served as a private hangout for Tobolski.
Krneta became involved with Legion Park after the park district put the project out to bid in June 2018 and no bidders responded.
Krneta’s company, which had worked on several small jobs for the park district in the prior year, then was given the job, even though, as he later told a local paper, he’d never previously overseen a complete park renovation.
According to an invoice submitted to the park district, Renovation Associates was to oversee “initial planning, consultation and construction management.”
Presidio was then brought in as the general contractor.
In July 2018, Krneta emailed park district executive director Frank Torres about Presidio, vouching for the company in an effort to allow it to avoid legal requirements that would have required it to post a bond insuring payment of subcontractors.
“In regard to Presidio, please be advised that we have worked with them in the past and they are a very reputable company and I personally vouch for them,” Krneta wrote. “They have built several homes in the Village of Summit for the building director which sits on your board. This work was funded by Cook County.”
Summit building inspector William Mundy sat on the park board when the Legion Park renovations were launched.
Earlier, Presidio built affordable townhomes in Summit and Cicero using federal money allocated by county government at the behest of Tobolski and his chief of staff, Patrick Doherty, according to interviews.
The Sun-Times has reported that federal agents questioned Doherty in late September about Maani and the townhome funding. Doherty, who moonlighted as a salesman for SafeSpeed, was charged last month with conspiring to pay bribes to secure approval for red-light cameras in Oak Lawn.
Both Mundy and Torres have also been approached by federal agents, though neither have disclosed what the feds were interested in.
Torres has told colleagues it does not involve the park district. Previously, he worked for Lyons Mayor Chris Getty, whose family insurance company and village offices also were raided in September.
Getty, who doubles as the Lyons Township supervisor, attended the dedication ceremony when the revamped park was finished, with a “basketball court renovation, play lot construction . . . concrete sidewalk and curbs, hot-mix asphalt pathway construction,” records show.
Disputes have since erupted over subcontractors getting paid, with George’s Landscaping, Inc., or GLI, suing the park district and Presidio in 2019.
The suit says the park district gave Presidio money to pay GLI and Presidio “kept the payment for itself and has failed and refuses to pay GLI the balance due of $43,511.87.”
In its defense, the park district has filed a countersuit against Krneta, saying he should be held responsible for the payment because he had written that he would “personally guarantee the completion of the work” through his own bank accounts.
Krneta’s lawyer countered in court papers that he was promising to complete the work, not pay the subcontractors personally.
Laurie Silvestri, a lawyer for George’s Landscaping, said she was retained after helping another subcontractor on the project fight to get paid. She said she has been unable to locate any written contracts for the project from the park district, and none was provided to the Sun-Times in response to an open-records request.
“I don’t know what to make of all of this, but it certainly raises red flags in my world,” Silvestri said.