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Firm denies involvement in Macomb bribery scandal

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit – An engineering firm linked to a Macomb County public corruption scandal is not a target of the FBI investigation and did not authorize its former partner to bribe anyone, a company leader said Wednesday.

“Not even close,” Giffels Webster partner Matt Schwanitz told The Detroit News on Wednesday.

Schwanitz spoke less than 24 hours after the engineering firm was linked to a widening bribery scandal involving numerous Macomb County communities and businesses.

Former Giffels Webster partner Paulin Modi was charged Tuesday with bribery conspiracy and accused of paying an unnamed Washington Township public official a $1,000 cash bribe in May 2014 to secure a municipal contract, according to federal prosecutors. Modi, 48, of Troy also allegedly helped facilitate a $2,000 cash bribe from another contractor to the same public official between June and October 2014, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“(Bribery) is so far from our policy,” Schwanitz said. “We are very disappointed in what we’ve heard. It’s very disheartening that our name has been mentioned.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office told Giffels Webster officials the firm is not a target of the grand jury investigation, Schwanitz said. A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman could not be reached for comment immediately Wednesday.

“We are a great firm and it’s very disheartening that our name has been mentioned,” he said. “But we are not a target of the investigation. All of our employees understand that and I think our clients will to.”

He would not say whether the company is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

“We cooperate fully when asked,” Schwanitz said. “The grand jury – I’m not going to comment on that. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Modi is the eighth person charged in a corruption scandal involving numerous Macomb County communities, trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services and the Macomb County Public Works office.

Until April, Modi was a partner with Giffels Webster, a company that has numerous municipal contracts in Metro Detroit. During his tenure, Modi handled the bulk of engineering services for Washington Township.

“We parted ways, let’s put it that way,” Schwanitz said. “It’s a personnel matter but we definitely have no relationship with him.”

The unnamed public official allegedly bribed by Modi was not an elected leader of Washington Township and no longer works for the community, The Detroit News has learned.

Modi was charged in a criminal information, which means a guilty plea is expected. The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

His lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Six people charged in the corruption investigation have either pleaded guilty or reached plea deals with the government. The bulk of those charged committed crimes in connection with Rizzo, a Sterling Heights company that is accused of bribing public officials as it expanded a business empire that reached 54 Metro Detroit communities.

Those charged include:

Shelby Township resident Quintin Ramanauskas, a former commercial manager with trash-hauling firm Rizzo Environmental Services.

Ramanauskas, 53, left a $3,000 bribe for Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds in November 2015 and a bribe totaling several thousand dollars for former Chesterfield Township Supervisor Michael Lovelock in fall 2015, according to court records.

Ramanauskas is scheduled to plead guilty June 30 in federal court. Lovelock is scheduled to plead guilty Thursday, the same day as former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas.

Freitas is accused of pocketing $7,500 in bribes from Rizzo between July 2015 and January 2016.

Former New Haven trustees Christopher Craigmiles and Brett Harris also were accused of taking bribes from an FBI agent posing as a Rizzo employee. Both have reached plea deals and await sentencing dates in federal court.

Reynolds, the former Clinton Township trustee, is the only public official that has not reached a plea deal with the government.

Reynolds was indicted in November and accused of taking $50,000 to $70,000 in cash from Rizzo in exchange for supporting the firm’s $3.5 million annual contract bid. He also was charged with taking $17,000 in cash from an undercover FBI agent.

Angelo Selva of Macomb Township is accused of concealing a bribery conspiracy involving Reynolds, a Rizzo Environmental Services executive and the company’s lawyer in September 2015. Selva is to plead guilty June 5 in federal court.

Rizzo’s founder, Chuck Rizzo Jr., resigned from the company in October amid the scandal and was believed to have been cooperating with investigators.

His namesake garbage company was acquired by Toronto-based GFL Environmental Inc. in October.

Two weeks ago, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said a federal grand jury also is investigating her office and has subpoenaed testimony from about a dozen public employees.

FBI agents are asking questions about Miller’s predecessor, Anthony Marrocco; his former deputy, Dino Bucci, and millions of dollars in payments to a county contractor, Miller said.

rsnell@detnews.com

(313) 222-2486

Twitter: @robertsnellnews