A former parking firm executive charged with steering a $22 million contract for Chicago’s parking meters to a favored company and collecting $90,000 in kickbacks has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, court records show.
LAZ Parking fired Felipe Oropesa last June after the Chicago Sun-Times first revealed that federal agents had been investigating Oropesa’s kickbacks. The FBI filed an affidavit in February 2015 to search two email accounts tied to the former vice president for government relations.
When a reporter first contacted Oropesa about the investigation, he called it “news to me.”
But Florida businessman George Levey of Cale Parking Systems USA Inc. admitted he paid Oropesa $90,000 after Oropesa gave him inside information that helped him craft a bid for the Chicago contract, federal prosecutors alleged in a court filing in Oregon. Levey pleaded guilty to a similar but separate scam there and was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Oropesa faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, but his sentencing hearing has not been scheduled. He pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom in Atlanta, where his case was transferred after he was charged in Chicago. His attorney, Paul Kish, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Oropesa oversaw LAZ Parking’s rollout of Chicago’s privatized meters after Chicago Parking Meters LLC leased the city’s parking meters for 75 years in exchange for an upfront payment of about $1.15 billion, according to records.
After Cale landed the Chicago contract, Oropesa told Levey to make bribe payments by writing checks to a company formed by an “Individual B” according to Oropesa’s charging document in Chicago. The affidavit filed in February 2015 indicates “Individual B” is Oropesa’s wife.
Oropesa allegedly sent Levey a form contract to sign calling for Cale to pay $90,000 to the company Oropesa’s wife formed in October 2009, Landmark Sales & Marketing. Over three months in 2010, the feds said four payments totaling $90,000 were made to that shell company.
Records indicate Levey later received an email from the Oropesas that read: “Hi George. Do you need me to send you an invoice for 2011?” Levey believed they were asking for more money, records indicate. By then, the contract had apparently turned out to be far less lucrative than expected.
So Levey allegedly wrote back: “You and I will need to meet.” He allegedly complained that Chicago Parking Meters had “hammered us down in all areas” and eventually concluded, “a fair payout may have already happened.”
Oropesa allegedly tried to set up a meeting. But two weeks later, Levey allegedly wrote back to offer a “reality update” and complained about the changes to the original deal.
“Obviously I am making this statement because the fee issued last year in my opinion is quite fair as a full payment,” Levey allegedly wrote.
The feds raided Levey’s office shortly after that email was sent, apparently putting an end to the scheme.