Former Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta was sentenced Monday to one year in prison, five months after he quit and admitted he took a secret $5,000 cash bribe while corruptly promising to hike the number of red-light camera tickets issued in the southwest suburb.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin told Presta that “public officials are held to a higher standard because you are given the power to affect people’s lives.”
And he called corruption in Illinois “death by a thousand cuts.”
However, the judge acknowledged he lowered Presta’s sentence because of several letters of support written on Presta’s behalf, as well as Presta’s ailing health.
Presta was caught on camera taking his bribe — and he lied to the feds about it anyway. He pleaded guilty in November to bribery and official misconduct, as well as filing a false tax return.
Before he was sentenced, Presta told the judge “I never thought I would be a criminal defendant.” He apologized for not paying his taxes and admitted he “accepted a bribe as mayor of Crestwood.”
Meanwhile, the judge wondered aloud how many red-light camera tickets would not have been written had it not been for Presta’s conduct.
While it’s not unusual for federal prosecutors to ask for a tough prison sentence that would send a message to corrupt politicians at large, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Durkin argued that the judge had to send a message to Presta, specifically.
The prosecutor and the judge are not related.
James Durkin noted in a court memo that Presta ran for another term as mayor while under indictment, and that he only resigned from the job one day before he pleaded guilty. One week after that, James Durkin wrote, Presta’s son-in-law was appointed interim mayor of the village. The prosecutor also alleged that Presta “continued his involvement in Village business even after his resignation.”
“Those are not the actions of a public official who is remorseful for or chastened by the public disclosure of his criminal conduct,” James Durkin wrote. “Rather, they indicate a need for specific deterrence to send a message to [Presta] that corruption will not be tolerated.”
James Durkin wrote that Presta “didn’t come clean” when confronted by federal agents in September 2019 with video that showed him taking the $5,000 bribe, tucked in an envelope, in March 2018.
“He doubled down and said there was no money in the envelope he received,” James Durkin wrote. “That deceitful conduct was not an aberration.”
Defense attorney Thomas Breen asked for probation in his memo, insisting that Presta is in his 70s, has health troubles and his crime was an aberration in an “esteemed life.”
“He cannot forgive himself, and knows that he caused the town he loves, Crestwood, to be bruised again by scandal,” Breen wrote.
Presta took the cash from Omar Maani, a onetime partner in the red-light camera company SafeSpeed. Presta promised Maani that red-light tickets in Crestwood would, in Maani’s words, “creep up higher,” and he bragged about the number of tickets issued in February 2018.
“You got a new sheriff in town,” Presta told Maani.