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Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta expected to plead guilty in red-light camera bribery case

Prosecutors said Presta sought and received benefits from SafeSpeed representatives while the company sought to expand its services in Crestwood.

Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta
Louis Presta
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta’s criminal defense attorney told a judge Thursday to cancel Presta’s December trial in Chicago’s federal court because Presta is expected to plead guilty.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin set an Oct. 29 change-of-plea hearing for Presta based on comments from defense attorney Thomas Breen. Presta’s guilty plea would scuttle his trial, which had been set for Dec. 6.

An indictment filed in August 2020 charged Presta with bribery, filing false tax returns and lying to the FBI and the IRS, allegedly about whether an envelope Presta received during a March 2018 meeting with a representative of the politically connected red-light camera company SafeSpeed had been stuffed with $5,000 cash.

Prosecutors said Presta sought and received benefits from SafeSpeed representatives while the company sought to expand its services in Crestwood. They also said Presta had been interviewed by federal authorities Sept. 26, 2019, amid a series of raids by federal agents that included the offices of then-Sen. Martin Sandoval at the state Capitol in Springfield.

During Presta’s interview, the feds say he denied receiving any gifts or cash campaign contributions from SafeSpeed. Then, when shown a recording of a March 7, 2018, meeting at which the feds say he accepted the envelope with $5,000 in cash, Presta allegedly lied and said there was no money in the envelope.

SafeSpeed has not been criminally charged.

Presta was also accused of filing false income tax returns for the years 2015 and 2018, as well as failing to file an income tax return for 2014.

When Presta was charged, Breen said in a statement that, “Mr. Presta never violated the trust the people of Crestwood placed in him. We anticipate that the evidence will show that Mr. Presta never did what his campaign contributor asked him to do. Mr. Presta remained committed to the people who had elected him mayor of Crestwood.”

Sandoval pleaded guilty to corruption charges related to SafeSpeed in January 2020 and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors. He died in December 2020.