Detroit — FBI agents secretly videotaped Macomb Township Trustee Dino Bucci receiving a bribe and wiretapped the burner cellphone that was supposed to help him dodge law enforcement surveillance, according to court records that portray the indicted politician as an inept crook.
The video and wiretap are among evidence federal prosecutors have amassed during a three-year investigation, according to a discovery notice filed in the case against Bucci, the onetime right-hand man of former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco.
Investigators also are armed with emails, bank and financial records, photographs, audio recordings of phone calls and hundreds of wiretapped phone calls, including some concerning extortion, bribery and kickback schemes, according to the filing.
Agents had at least four wiretaps, including one on Bucci’s phone and one on his disposable “burner” phone — a cheap prepaid phone typically used by drug dealers, and quickly replaced, to avoid being tracked by investigators. In Bucci’s case, agents learned about the phone and tapped it, according to the filing.
“The key to a burner is to get rid of it. Drug people buy a case of them and throw them away after a few days,” said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “White-collar defendants don’t understand what a burner really is.”
The burner phone will help prosecutors show Bucci’s intent and could pressure him to strike a plea deal, Henning said.
“You get a second phone when you have something to hide,” Henning said. “They are snowing the defendant under with materials to show just how strong their case is.”
The evidence emerged three weeks after Bucci, 58, was charged with bribery, extortion, fraud, theft and money laundering in an 18-count indictment that accuses the politician of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars while extorting engineering contractors who wanted public contracts, forcing county employees to drive his child to school and plow snow at his home.
Bucci’s lawyer, Stephen Rabaut, could not be reached for comment immediately Monday.
The wide-ranging corruption investigation is focused on at least three fronts: Macomb County politicians pocketing bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Sterling Heights trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services, Grosse Pointe Shores businessman Gasper Fiore’s towing empire and the Macomb County Public Works office.
The indictment came one month after Bucci was referenced in a plea deal involving township contractor Christopher Sorrentino. Sorrentino admitted delivering $66,000 in bribes to an unnamed politician at the public works office. The News previously reported that Bucci was the unnamed politician.
Prosecutors allege Bucci participated in a nine-year bribery conspiracy with other public officials and contractors.
The criminal allegations against Bucci involve several other figures who have been charged amid the year-long investigation. Those include Rizzo Environmental Services CEO Chuck Rizzo, former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas and engineering contractor Paulin Modi.
If convicted, Bucci could spend more than 20 years in federal prison.
Bucci directed contractors to give him tens of thousands of dollars in cash, checks and gift cards in exchange for public contracts, according to the government.
Contractors also gave him hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks and cash for political fundraising events, including golf outings and dinners in exchange for county and township contracts, according to the indictment.
During the conspiracy, Bucci also served as operations manager for the county’s public works office.
Prosecutors describe a “pay-to-play” culture that required contractors to give money to Bucci and buy tickets to political fundraisers for the township politician and political allies.
Bucci used his county and township positions to extort money from people by threatening to withhold development permits and home construction, prosecutors said. Bucci pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in cash and kickbacks during a five-year period, according to the indictment.
Bucci stole from the county by using employees and equipment on personal projects, prosecutors said. He forced employees to plow snow at his home and mom’s house “every time it snowed,” prosecutors said.
During heavy snowfalls, Bucci forced county employees to plow at his friends’ and relatives’ homes, according to the indictment.
County employees were forced to plow snow at Bucci’s home before plowing county facilities, prosecutors said.
The charges also come six months after Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said a federal grand jury was investigating her office during Marrocco’s tenure and had subpoenaed testimony from about a dozen public employees.
FBI agents were asking questions about Marrocco, who lost to Miller in the November election; Bucci, his former deputy; and millions of dollars in payments to an unnamed county contractor, Miller said.