Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta pleads not guilty to bribery charges

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Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges alleging he accepted bribes to promote a red-light camera company and then lied about it to the FBI.

Presta, 69, was charged last week with three counts of using a facility in interstate commerce in aid of bribery and official misconduct, two counts of willfully filing a false income tax return, one count of willfully failing to file an income tax return and one count of making false statements to the FBI and IRS.

Presta entered his not guilty plea during a brief telephone arraignment before U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin.

According to federal prosecutors, Presta was caught on a March 2019 recording accepting an envelope with $5,000 cash from a representative of SafeSpeed LLC, and then lied to the FBI and IRS when asked about it that September.

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Presta, who has been mayor since 2013, denied the charges in a statement issued Friday through his attorneys.

The statement came hours after Presta’s campaign committee made an unusual filing with the State Board of Elections, in which it disclosed that in March 2018, a then-SafeSpeed representative provided him “election day workers and expenses” collectively worth $5,000. The connection to Presta’s criminal charges is unclear.

In comments last week, Presta attorney Thomas Breen did not address why the campaign filing was more than two years late but said the cash was used for “incidentals during the campaign” and “certainly was not used to influence the mayor’s position on any issue that affected the village.”

“The donor was, of course, setting Mr. Presta up in an attempt to induce criminal activity which did not come about,” Breen said.

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The indictment said Presta “asked for and accepted benefits from representatives of” the red-light camera firm, which it doesn’t name. But public records indicate the only company with cameras in the village is SafeSpeed, a clout-heavy firm that has surfaced elsewhere in the criminal probe.

Court records show former SafeSpeed principal Omar Maani has been cooperating with investigators. SafeSpeed has said it cut ties with the one-time rainmaker, and issued a statement Friday saying it “does not condone the conduct alleged in the (Presta) indictment.”

“The company holds its employees and representatives to high standards of conduct and ethics. SafeSpeed will continue to take the appropriate action to ensure these standards are followed,” according to its statement.

An attorney for SafeSpeed CEO Nikki Zollar and executive Chris Lai previously has said in a civil filing that the pair were not aware of any bribes paid by anyone on the firm’s behalf.

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