Macomb bribery suspects had money woes
Five former Macomb County officials accused in a wide-ranging corruption investigation have a history of personal financial trouble, including four who filed for bankruptcy, public records show.
In addition, two failed to pay taxes, one was investigated as part of a controversial sale of township trucks and another has multiple drunken driving offenses, The Detroit News found.
Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who led the charges against all five men, told The News in an interview that money struggles, greed and opportunity are perhaps the key motivators for elected officials who take bribes.
“Public officials who accept bribes are motivated by many factors and certainly financial troubles might be one of them,” McQuade said. “But financial troubles never entitle public officials to steal public funds or accept bribes.”
The five are facing federal charges in an ongoing public corruption scandal. Former Clinton Township trustee Dean Reynolds, former Macomb Township trustee Clifford Freitas and former Chesterfield Township supervisor Michael Lovelock are accused of taking bribes from an unidentified company between 2009-16, federal prosecutors allege.
Two other officials — former New Haven trustees Christopher Craigmiles and Brett Harris — injected themselves into the public corruption scandal by taking bribes from an FBI agent posing as an employee for Rizzo Environmental Services, a trash hauler, in 2016, according to the allegations.
In total, complaints show the five men pocketed at least $177,500.
Authorities say the officials promised vendors they would back their contracts in their communities, convinced other officials to do the same and demanded money from vendors in exchange for their support.
But it’s their most recent allegations that may prove the most damaging.
McQuade said she hopes these cases will deter other elected officials from accepting bribes and extorting contractors.
“If they know that someone is watching and paying attention, we hope that it will help them conform their behavior to what is expected,” McQuade said.
Craigmiles said during a court appearance last month the undercover FBI agent who bribed him was pretending to be a Rizzo employee. That was the first time anyone in the case publicly stated the contract involved in the bribes was Rizzo.
Rizzo, which was acquired by Toronto-based GFL in October, is not named in any of the complaints against the five defendants. However, the company acknowledges it continues to cooperate with authorities in their public corruption investigation. GFL spokesman Joe Munem declined to release any details on GFL’s role in the investigation.
Rizzo has dominated trash contracts in Metro Detroit communities for the last decade. Competing trash hauler Waste Management said it lost nearly half of its trash deals to Rizzo during that time period.
Tom Horton, spokesman for Waste Management, said it was noticed that local officials began practicing unusual bid processes, such as “allowing bids to be revised and resubmitted.”
Clinton and Macomb townships were among the towns that switched from Waste Management to Rizzo.
“We won’t speculate on factors that have helped them win bids,” Horton said in a statement. “We will continue to watch as the investigation unfolds.”
After the November election, Craigmiles was the only one of the five men who remained in public office until he resigned in February. Lovelock and Harris lost their bids for re-election. Reynolds ran for township supervisor and lost to Robert Cannon, the Republican incumbent. Freitas lost the August primary.
Reynolds, who served three terms on the township Board of Trustees since 2004, was arrested by the FBI on Oct. 13 for allegedly accepting bribes.
The criminal complaint reveals Reynolds, 50, was facing financial troubles, including a divorce, that drove him to demand money from companies seeking contracts with Clinton Township.
Macomb County court records show Reynolds filed for divorce from Tammy Reynolds in July 2015 and the divorce was finalized in April. Records show two prior divorce filings with the couple including one initiated by Tammy Reynolds in March 2014 and the other by Dean Reynolds in May 2014.
Dean Reynolds and his ex-wife also filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in November 2014, listing more than $633,000 in liabilities. Among his assets: a $42,000 pension from Clinton Township.
Reynolds had negative income for two years before filing bankruptcy, according to court records. In 2012, the couple had $36,000 in negative income and $62,000 in negative income the prior year.
Reynolds, a registered Democrat, also had a tax problem. The state filed a $3,759 tax lien against him and his wife in July 2008. The tax debt was released two years later.
In an indictment, a grand jury alleges Reynolds took bribes on three occasions from 2009 through 2016 from two companies — identified only as Company A and Company C — that have business with Clinton Township. The alleged bribes totaled $70,000.
A judge entered a not guilty plea for Reynolds during a court appearance in November. He has a trial date set for June 19.
Attempts to reach Reynolds by phone were unsuccessful. His attorney, Stephen T. Rabaut of Clinton Township, did not respond to calls or an email requesting comment.
Clinton Township has a trash hauling contract with Rizzo that officials say is worth nearly $18 million. The township board first approved a contract with Rizzo in November 2010. The board renewed the deal in 2013 for four additional years.
Board meeting minutes show Reynolds supported the Rizzo contract each time it was up for a vote. In 2013, he made the motion for the board to renew Rizzo’s contract.
State Rep. William Sowerby, a former Clinton Township treasurer, said Reynolds was a strong advocate for Rizzo in 2013 when the board was discussing a contract renewal. Sowerby lobbied for the board to go out to bid with trash companies that year, but he was in the minority, he said.
During the meeting discussing the contract renewal, Reynolds said it wasn’t necessary to bid, noting the town hadn’t had a bid for an engineering firm in 60 years.
Reynolds also said he was concerned that smaller trash companies may have “service issues,” according to the meeting minutes.
Still, there was no indication Reynolds was being bribed behind the scenes, Sowerby said.
“Any company that is given public contracts that compromise the integrity of good government is not a good company,” Sowerby said.
Reynolds allegedly told a principal of Company A — who agreed to a cooperate with the federal investigation — that he needed money for a lawyer during his divorce, according to the complaint.
The complaint includes text from a wire-tapped phone conversation in which Reynolds’ divorce attorney, identified as Lawyer B, asked the principal of Company A to give Reynolds $5,000 for a psychological evaluation during his divorce.
Lovelock, 58, a registered Democrat, served as the Chesterfield Township supervisor from 2008 to 2016. Federal prosecutors accused him of taking multiple bribes totaling more than $30,000 from 2010-16 from a company that had a “significant contract” with Chesterfield Township. Rizzo has provided the company’s trash services for the past 12 years, officials say.
Lovelock, who was unseated in the Nov. 8 general election, also has a history of financial troubles. He filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 2001. The case was discharged in August 2001.
Nine years later, Lovelock’s financial problems continued.
In 2010, Community Central Bank won a $5,189 civil judgment against him. The following year, in September 2011, Capital One Bank won a $7,137 judgment against Lovelock.
During his term as supervisor, Lovelock was no stranger to controversy.
In 2013, Macomb County’s sheriff and prosecutor launched an investigation after Lovelock was accused of selling six Department of Public Works trucks for $4,000 without disclosing to the township board the identity of the buyer.
However, the county found no evidence of wrongdoing by Lovelock. The probe sparked an effort by citizens to recall Lovelock as supervisor, citing lack of transparency in the truck sales as a key reason.
City Clerk Cindy Berry recalled a township board meeting in 2013 at which Lovelock pushed for the Rizzo contract renewal because it was offering free recycling bins.
“My assessment was this was a perfect time to lower the rate,” Berry said. “But his big thing was they are going to give us these (recycling bins).”
The board ultimately approved the Rizzo contract for January 2014-December 2018. Berry said she was successful in getting Rizzo to eliminate a rate increase for 2017 and 2018.
When reached by phone, Lovelock declined to comment and referred all questions to his attorney, Jerome Sabbota.
Sabbota has said the federal government had not presented enough evidence to support the bribery and corruption charges.
On Feb. 15, Sabbota said he was still awaiting discovery for the case.
“At this point, he’s presumed innocent and I believe that,” Sabbota said.
A judge entered a not-guilty plea for Lovelock in December. His trial is scheduled for July 17.
Freitas, 43, a Republican, was elected to the Macomb Township Board of Trustees in 2012. He simultaneously worked as a project manager for Rizzo — a job he held from June 2013 to October, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Freitas was arrested in October by FBI agents on a criminal complaint charging him with demanding and taking bribes in exchange for official help on a municipal contract. He’s accused of accepting $7,500 from the vendor, believed to be Rizzo, in return for his help in getting the contract.
Public records show Freitas was facing tax problems during the period he was allegedly accepting bribes.
In 2014, the state accused him and his wife of owing $3,115 in delinquent state taxes. The debt was released in February 2016. A neighborhood association filed two liens against him in Macomb County for unpaid assessments. One lien was filed Dec. 12, 2016, for $360.
According to board of trustees minutes, on Sept. 23, 2015, the township approved, 5-0, the only municipal contract before it — a five-year waste contract with Rizzo, which took effect Oct. 1, 2015. Freitas abstained from the vote, citing his employment with Rizzo.
Macomb Township Supervisor Janet Dunn said Freitas never pressured her to vote in favor of Rizzo. She also had no knowledge of him pushing other board members to support the company.
“He was a very quiet individual,” Dunn said. “I just never would have expected that.”
After the vendor was awarded the contract by the township, Freitas demanded an additional $35,000 from the company representative for his additional help as a public official relating to the contract, according to the complaint.
When reached by phone, Freitas declined to comment. Freitas’ listed attorney, Daniel N. Garon, did not respond to a request for an interview.
Dunn said Freitas served the community well during his four-year term on the board of trustees.
“When I got the call that morning that he had been arrested, I said, ‘You must have the wrong person,’ ” Dunn said.
When Rizzo first emerged as the center of the public corruption probe, Dunn called for the township to terminate its contract with the company.
Her feelings have since changed. She said in early February that GFL leaders had assured her they knew nothing about the alleged bribery.
“We are going to honor the contract, and we don’t see any reason to terminate or investigate it any further,” Dunn said.
In January, officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit and Freitas’ defense attorney agreed to adjourn his case to give both sides more time to work on a resolution, either through a plea deal or to extend the time allowed for a grand jury to consider an indictment.
Court records show both sides sought to continue pre-indictment plea negotiations through May 12.
Harris, 57, is a long-time, popular political figure in New Haven. But he lost his seat on the New Haven board of trustees in November’s election.
Harris and his wife filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in February 2009, listing $111,689 in assets and $207,596 in liabilities. At the time, he was an unemployed maintenance worker. The case was discharged in September 2014.
Harris has served on the village board of trustees at various times since the 1990s, including stints as village president. He’s worked on a projects including the village’s Fun Fest. A former village president, Ken Sims, once accused Harris of turning the nonprofit festival into a for-profit venture for himself. Harris denied that was the case.
He is accused of meeting with an undercover FBI agent on March 31, April 27 and May 18, and accepting cash bribes totaling $9,000 after being introduced by Reynolds. Harris accepted another $2,000 from the agent on Aug. 19, court records show.
He pleaded guilty to the bribery conspiracy charges on Feb. 6 and now faces between 33 and 41 months in prison, based on sentencing guidelines. Harris agreed to cooperate with the government in its investigation and testify if necessary. His sentencing is scheduled for June 8.
Attempts to reach Harris by phone were unsuccessful. His attorney, Steven Fishman, declined to comment.
Harris has also held positions as a maintenance worker at the New Haven school district and a local machine shop.
In 2012, Harris won a seat back on the New Haven Village Board of Trustees after an unsuccessful attempt in November 2010. He was one of three candidates who ran for three four-year terms on the board in 2012.
Harris is listed as a non-partisan candidate in Macomb County Campaign Finance records.
Harris also has a well-known record of drunken driving offenses. His driving record shows he was ticketed for offenses in 1986, 1990, 1992, 2002 and 2007.
In 2008, he entered an inpatient alcohol treatment program. He resigned from office later that year amid calls from residents for his removal.
Harris’ Michigan driver’s license was suspended for more than three years: from June 6, 1992, to Dec. 6, 1995. Harris was sentenced in September 2008 to 18 months of probation, which included three months in jail.
Craigmiles, 43, a retired Detroit transit police officer, has a history of financial troubles.
He filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in March 2013. He listed $53,345 in assets and $94,447 in liabilities. His largest asset was a $30,000 mobile home. At the time, Craigmiles was unemployed and disabled.
Craigmiles was pulled into the bribery scheme by Harris, who promised an undercover agent that Craigmiles could be bribed, according to a federal complaint.
On Aug. 3, Craigmiles reportedly met with an undercover FBI agent in the garage at Harris’ home. It was there that Craigmiles allegedly accepted $5,000 in FBI funds from the undercover agent in exchange for his vote on a contract for Rizzo with New Haven.
The agent was wearing audio and video recording devices during the meeting.
Craigmiles pleaded guilty to one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. Sentencing guidelines call for him to be sentenced anywhere from 18 to 24 months in prison. His sentencing is set for June 8.
A woman who answered Craigmiles’ phone Wednesday evening said he was not available for comment after previous attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
GFL confirmed that Rizzo last provided trash services to New Haven in October 2014. After that, the village voted to sign a five-year deal with Waste Management, according to Village President Chris Dilbert Sr.
Dilbert said he didn’t know why Craigmiles and Harris would be accepting bribes from Rizzo when the contract wasn’t up for renewal.
“This is all confusing to me that they would be involved in this activity,” he said in an interview with The Detroit News in January.
Craigmiles won re-election to the New Haven board of trustees last November after being previously appointed to fill a vacancy. He is listed as a non-partisan candidate in Macomb County Campaign Finance records.
Dilbert confirmed that Craigmiles submitted a letter of resignation to the village and the board accepted his resignation at its Feb. 14 meeting.
Craigmiles’ attorney, David Nacht, said Craigmiles accepts full responsibility for accepting the bribe.
Nacht described Craigmiles as a family man who gives back to the community, coaches community sports, goes to church and is married to his high school sweetheart.
“He didn’t seek this out; it sought him out,” Nacht said. “He didn’t handle it in a way that was consistent with the way he has led his entire life until now.”
Staff Writer Robert Snell contributed.
Office held: Former Chesterfield Township supervisor
Offense: Indicted on four counts of conspiracy and demanding bribes
Office held: Former Clinton Township trustee
Offense: Charged with demanding and taking bribes in exchange for his vote on municipal contracts
Office held: Former Macomb Township trustee
Offense: Charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, including demanding and accepting money in exchange for official acts as a trustee
Office held: Former New Haven trustee
Offense: Charged with bribery conspiracy concerning programs receiving federal funds
Office held: Former New Haven trustee
Offense: Charged with theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds