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Detroit — Federal prosecutors charged the former chief engineer of Macomb County for his role in the Macomb County corruption scandal Tuesday, accusing him of funneling bribes to a Washington Township public official.

James Pistilli, 68, of Holly was charged with bribery conspiracy, a 10-year felony, according to a federal court filing Tuesday in federal court. He is the 15th person charged in the widening scandal.

Pistilli was charged in a criminal information, which means a guilty plea is expected.

Pistilli learned that he was charged with a crime Tuesday from The Detroit News and expressed confusion about the allegations.

“I was involved but I really didn’t understand what was going on,” he said. “It was really a sad situation for me. My wife had passed away and I was pretty screwed up at the time.”

Pistilli was chief engineer for Macomb County’s public works office from August 2011 until June 2012, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The conspiracy involving Pistilli dates to spring 2014, the filing alleges. He conspired to give $2,000 to Washington Township public works superintendent Steven Hohensee, according to the court filing.

Pistilli and a second man, engineering contractor Paulin Modi, served as middlemen for an unnamed company that was trying to win a contract with Washington Township, according to court records.

Pistilli and Modi worked for the engineering firm Giffels Webster, a company that has numerous municipal contracts in Metro Detroit. Modi is expected to plead guilty Sept. 12.

During the time listed in the court filing, Pistilli worked as a senior project manager for Giffels Webster.

Neither man currently works for the company, Giffels Webster partner Matt Schwanitz said Tuesday.

“The U.S. Attorney has said our firm is not a subject or a target in this investigation,” Schwanitz said. “I need to see what’s going on.”

On Oct. 20, 2014, an employee from the unnamed company met Hohensee and paid a $2,000 bribe, prosecutors allege.

Hohensee, however, was working undercover for the FBI, according to the filing.

The charge is the latest in a wide-ranging, ongoing investigation into public officials pocketing bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Sterling Heights trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services and a towing company.

The court filing is the first time federal prosecutors have charged someone who previously worked for former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco.

The filing comes four months after Marrocco’s successor, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, said a federal grand jury was investigating that office and had subpoenaed testimony from about a dozen public employees.

FBI agents are asking questions about Marrocco, his former deputy, Dino Bucci, and millions of dollars in payments to an unnamed county contractor, Miller said.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2486

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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