Thursday, April 22, 2021

Former SafeSpeed executive charged with bribery in red light camera scandal

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A former executive for a red-light camera company who wore a wire for the FBI as part of a sprawling public corruption investigation was charged Monday with bribery conspiracy in an alleged scheme to get cameras installed in Oak Lawn.

The one-count criminal information alleges that Omar Maani, who was co-owner of clout-heavy SafeSpeed LLC, conspired with longtime political operative Patrick Doherty and another sales agent for the company to pay $4,000 in bribes in exchange for the official support of an Oak Lawn trustee to add cameras at additional intersections.

In May 2017, Doherty called Maani and said he was going to pay the relative, “just on the chance of, uh, if we can get the other (cameras) in Oak Lawn and get (the trustee) on our side,” the charge alleged.

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Defendants who are charged via a criminal information — as opposed to a grand jury indictment — typically plan to plead guilty. An arraignment in federal court was scheduled for Friday. Maani’s attorney had no immediate comment.

The charges mark the first official identification of Maani, a Burr Ridge businessman who was one of SafeSpeed’s founders and biggest rainmakers, as the FBI’s cooperating source, though the Tribune and other media outlets previously had identified him.

Maani’s cooperation with federal authorities already has led to charges against a number of Democratic politicians and power players, including Doherty, Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, and then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval.

In late January, Sandoval pleaded guilty to bribery and tax charges. He admitted to taking at least $70,000 in government-supplied cash from Maani in return for acting as its “protector” in the state Senate.

Sandoval also admitted in the plea agreement that he first agreed in 2016 to receive $20,000 in annual campaign contributions from SafeSpeed in exchange for his official support in Springfield. Campaign finance records show that in September 2016, Sandoval’s campaign fund got a $10,000 donation from Triad Consulting Services, a firm run by SafeSpeed CEO Nikki Zollar, followed three weeks later by a $10,000 donation made by SafeSpeed itself.

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Zollar and SafeSpeed have denied any wrongdoing, saying the $20,000 in donations were legal campaign contributions.

After Doherty was charged in February in the Oak Lawn bribery red-light camera case, SafeSpeed released a statement saying Doherty was not a SafeSpeed employee, but an “independent contractor” recruited by Maani to consult on sales.

“Mr. Doherty had no authority to take actions to bind the company, let alone engage in criminal behavior,” the statement read. “SafeSpeed never authorized Mr. Doherty or anyone else to engage in the alleged criminal behavior described in the indictment.”

In a statement Monday, SafeSpeed said Maani was acting without the company’s knowledge and has “not been active in the business for a substantial period of time.”

“SafeSpeed is as offended as anyone by what Omar Maani did,” the statement released through a spokeswoman read. “His alleged conduct has and will continue to set SafeSpeed back.”

Doherty, 64, also served as chief of staff to former Cook County Commissioner and McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski.

Tobolski was charged earlier this month with extortion and filing a false tax return in a separate alleged scheme. He’s due to be arraigned in federal court on Tuesday.

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Maani’s name first surfaced in the ongoing federal investigation last fall when the FBI executed search warrants on Sandoval’s office as well as village buildings in Lyons and McCook. Records showed agents seized evidence on Maani and his development firm, Presidio Capital, which has built government-subsidized housing in nearby Summit and Cicero.

The charges against Maani and Doherty center on a scheme to renew SafeSpeed’s camera contract in Oak Lawn, where the company had been since 2014, and increase the number of intersections the deal covered.

In a recorded phone call in May 2017, Doherty told the other SafeSpeed agent he’d pay the trustee’s close relative the money “if it’s going to get us the job,” according to the indictment filed against Doherty.

“I’ll just pay it,” Doherty allegedly said on the call. “Just make sure we get the, make sure we get the f—— thing, the contract.”

The payments were going to be doled out to the relative in $500 installments over a period of eight weeks, according to the Doherty indictment. To hide the purpose of the bribes, the money would come from a company where Doherty was a manager.

On June 13, 2017, the FBI recorded Doherty on a cellphone call telling the trustee’s relative, “It’s not like I need ya,” but that he’d pay the money anyway, according to the charges.

Two days later, Doherty cut the relative a $500 check for the first installment, the indictment alleged. The charges do not state whether the rest of the money was ever paid.

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