Sunday, May 22, 2022

Former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta Sentenced to 1 Year For Bribery

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Former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta was sentenced to one year and one day in prison on Monday, five months after pleading guilty to taking a $5,000 bribe from a red light camera company executive in 2018.

Presta, who resigned from office a day before pleading guilty to federal bribery and tax charges in November, was caught on camera accepting an envelope containing $5,000 in cash from former SafeSpeed executive Omar Maani on March 7, 2018, and then lied about it when questioned by the FBI and IRS, falsely claiming the envelope was empty.

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U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin admonished Presta for “pretty outrageous lies” to federal investigators.

“You took the money with ease,” the judge said.

Judge Durkin also said Presta’s crime damaged Crestwood’s reputation.

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“The image of Crestwood is diminished when the mayor takes a bribe to jack up red light camera tickets on anyone driving through town,” he said.

In exchange for the bribe he took, Presta agreed help SafeSpeed install more cameras in the village, and to increase the number of red light camera tickets that would be issued in Crestwood. Maani was cooperating with the feds at the time, although the company itself has not been charged with a crime, and has said Maani was acting without the company’s knowledge.

“SafeSpeed remains both shocked and saddened that one of its former colleagues was engaged in criminal conduct and recruited outside individuals to help further his self-serving activities. Their actions were clearly in their own self-interest and done without SafeSpeed’s knowledge and undercut the important work SafeSpeed does,” a SafeSpeed spokesperson said in a statement Monday afternoon.

As part of Presta’s guilty plea, he also admitted to filing false tax returns for 2015 and 2018, and to failing to file an income tax return for 2014.

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“His actions were corrosive,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James Durkin – who is not related to the judge –said at Presta’s sentencing hearing.

“This wasn’t a single mistake. He wasn’t a political novice,” Durkin added. “This wasn’t just something that happened in a flash. It was premeditated.”

In seeking to have Presta sentenced to only probation, defense attorney Thomas Breen said the $5,000 he took didn’t go into his pocket, but rather to “thank and support volunteers” on his 2018 campaign for the Cook County Board.

“Let’s not color this case as a horrible, horrible example of political corruption,” Breen said, adding that the feds caught Presta taking only one “cash contribution” from Maani. “Other than that, he’s pure as the driven snow. He should be an example for political figures.”

Before he was sentenced, Presta apologized for accepting a bribe and for not paying his taxes.

“I’m so sorry for bringing this scandal to the village of Crestwood,” he said. “I never thought that I’d be a criminal defendant.”

Prosecutors had been seeking a two-year prison sentence for Presta, and Judge Durkin said he agreed to a lower sentence in part because of several letters of support written on the former mayor’s behalf.

While Judge Durkin also said Presta undoubtedly did good things for the people of Crestwood as mayor, he said that was his job as an elected public official.

“Although I admire what you’ve done for the town, that’s what you’re supposed to do as mayor,” the judge said. “Your actions have consequences.”

At the request of Presta’s defense attorney, Judge Durkin said he would recommend to federal prison officials that Presta serve his time in prison at the federal lockup in Oxford, Wisconsin.

Presta must report to prison by noon on June 27 once the U.S. Bureau of Prisons officially determines where he’ll be imprisoned.

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