Trash hauler in Macomb probe a frequent political donor
Detroit – — A large trash-hauling company involved in an FBI public corruption investigation and its political action committee have given more than $310,000 to politicians and special-interest groups in recent years, records show.
The contributions came into focus Friday, one day after Sterling Heights-based Rizzo Environmental Services was linked to a bribery case involving Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds.
State and local campaign-finance records show dozens of contributions across Metro Detroit in recent years, illustrating the scope of Rizzo’s political influence at a time when the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office say they are investigating systemic corruption in southeast Michigan, primarily Macomb County.
A Rizzo spokesman acknowledged the company is cooperating with investigators after the FBI said an unnamed businessman admitted bribing Reynolds in exchange for favorable treatment on an $18 million contract.
“In this, as in all matters, we’re cooperating with the legal authorities,” Rizzo spokesman Joseph Munem said in a statement. “We will follow their guidance so long as it may be required in the coming weeks.”
Rizzo founder Chuck Rizzo Jr. and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Rizzo could not be reached for comment.
Reynolds’ arrest Thursday and the FBI’s warning that agents are investigating widespread corruption in multiple communities likely jolted politicians across the region, political experts said.
“This has to raise some eyebrows from those lawmakers that take contributions from Rizzo and make them think about what exactly is going on here,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “I think the fear would be from anyone that’s committed wrongdoing. If someone has done something illegal and has something to hide, these criminal investigations are one of the only ways the public gets to find out about it.”
The contributions coincided with Rizzo expanding its operation by buying rival trash-hauling firms in Metro Detroit in recent years.
The Rizzo PAC has been almost entirely bankrolled by company founder Chuck Rizzo, records show. In Macomb County, Chuck Rizzo has given another $7,800 in personal contributions to candidates for local offices since 2012, according to county records.
Rizzo Environmental Services hauls trash in more than 40 communities in southeast Michigan and has recycling facilities serving customers in lower Michigan and northern Ohio.
The company’s political action committee was created in June 2013. Within days, the PAC started distributing money and one of the first politicians to receive support was Reynolds, the Clinton Township trustee who appeared in federal court Thursday wearing an untucked white dress shirt, handcuffs and ankle chains.
Reynolds received $1,000 from the PAC, one of the largest individual contributions in July 2013, state records show.
Reynolds and fellow Clinton Township board members have received $11,350 since 2012 from the Rizzo PAC and people tied to the company, campaign finance records show.
Clinton Township signed a multimillion contract with Rizzo in 2010 after the company was the low-bidder, beating out Waste Management.
The township attempted to solicit bids in 2013 but voted to extend the Rizzo contract in a 4-3 vote, according to township meeting minutes.
This year, on Feb. 22, Reynolds made a motion to extend Rizzo’s contract through 2026, the minutes show. The extension includes an option to solicit bids as early as 2019 “if the board so chooses.”
Reynolds, 49, is accused of pocketing more than $87,000 in bribes while supporting a company’s attempts to secure a “significant” contract with Clinton Township, according to court records.
The criminal complaint includes a wiretapped phone conversation in July 2015, during which Reynolds allegedly refers to a businessman and an $18 million contract.
Robert Cannon, the Clinton Township supervisor, said the community only has one contract anywhere near $18 million. The contract is for trash hauling with Rizzo.
“The only company it could be is Rizzo,” Cannon said. “I hope it’s not them.”
The unnamed businessman mentioned in court records also gave Reynolds freebie lawyers during his 2014 divorce case.
Macomb County Circuit Court records identify the lawyers as Jay Schwartz and Carmen Moyer, an associate at Schwartz’s Farmington Hills firm.
The Schwartz firm has worked for Rizzo, according to the law firm’s website.
Schwartz and Moyer did not return phone messages seeking comment.
Rizzo Environmental Services PAC and related individuals has become a frequent contributor to the campaigns of candidates ranging from township boards and city councils across Metro Detroit to state legislators.
The biggest recipients of Rizzo PAC contributions since 2013 include:
■ $15,000 for Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon
■ $8,400 for Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard
■ $6,900 for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
■ $5,500 for Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco
■ $5,500 for state Sen. Mike Kowall of White Lake Township
■ $5,300 for Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson
■ $3,500 for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans
■ $2,600 for Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel