Former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta ordered released early from federal prison due to health concerns




  • In US
  • 2022-09-29 16:20:00Z
  • By Chicago Tribune
 

Former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta was ordered released early from federal prison Thursday due to a precipitous decline in his health while serving his one-year term for bribery.

Presta, who turns 72 next month, was sentenced in April after pleading guilty to taking what he thought was a $5,000 bribe from a red-light camera company executive during an FBI sting.

He reported in June to a medical prison facility in Lexington, Kentucky, and was expected to be released on April 18, 2023, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Two months into his term, Presta's lawyers filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin to order his release due to what they described as grave health concerns, including heart disease, vertigo, high blood pressure and diabetes.

"Mr. Presta is a very sick man, and he is only getting sicker," attorney Burt Odelson wrote. "He and his family fear for his health and safety, and they fear that given his worsening conditions, it is possible that he will die in prison."

Prison officials had maintained that Presta was getting the health care he needed at the facility and that early release was not warranted, court records show.

After enlisting the help of an independent doctor to examine Presta, the judge on Tuesday ordered the former mayor released immediately to home confinement to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Presta, a Democrat first elected as mayor of Crestwood in 2013, resigned in November after pleading guilty to charges of bribery, official misconduct and filing false tax returns.

He admitted in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he accepted an envelope with $5,000 cash in March 2019 from Omar Maani, an executive at clout-heavy red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC. Maani, who no longer works for the firm, was actually cooperating with the FBI and the entire exchange was caught on an undercover camera.

Presta, who at the time was running for Cook County commissioner, took the money in exchange for helping SafeSpeed get more red-light cameras in the village and boost revenues from existing cameras by approving more violations, according to his plea agreement.

In handing down the sentence, Durkin noted that Presta had done many good things for his community in his time as mayor, but "that's what elected officials are supposed to do."

The judge also said Presta's corruption did real damage to Crestwood, a working-class town that doesn't have all the advantages of wealthier communities on the North Shore.

"The image of Crestwood is diminished when the mayor takes a bribe to jack up red-light camera tickets on anyone driving through town," Durkin said. "I don't know how many of those tickets were unjustified. But it damages people to have to pay tickets that otherwise might not have been written."

Before he was sentenced, Presta sniffed back tears as he apologized to his wife and the people of the town.

"I'm so sorry for bringing this scandal to the village of Crestwood," he said, seated at the defense table reading from a sheet of paper. "I never thought that I'd be a criminal defendant."

The FBI sting that ensnared Presta in 2017 was part of a wide-ranging political corruption investigation that has toppled a number of politicians and operatives in Chicago's west and southwest suburbs.

SafeSpeed and it's owner, Nikki Zollar, have denied any wrongdoing and have not been charged.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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