Felons get $1.2M Washtenaw Co. contract despite suspect school claims

Contractor gave kickbacks to Macomb Public Works

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Macomb County corruption scandal moved to the county’s Public Works Office on Tuesday after a paving contractor admitted delivering $66,000 in kickbacks to the office.

The admission was the strongest public indication that federal prosecutors are focused on the public works office, which until January was headed by Anthony Marrocco and employed Macomb Township Trustee Dino Bucci.

The allegation emerged in a plea agreement for contractor Christopher Sorrentino, who admitted funneling $66,000 in kickbacks to an unnamed Macomb Township politician. The News has learned the unnamed politician is Bucci.

The plea comes five weeks after Sorrentino of Macomb Township was charged with structuring financial transactions to avoid current reporting requirements — a five-year felony. He is the 10th person to plead guilty to a crime during the corruption investigation.

Sorrentino will be sentenced Feb. 6 in federal court and could spend 10-16 months in prison. Sorrentino is expected to assist with the ongoing investigation — terms of his cooperation are sealed — and could receive a lighter sentence.

“He’s not happy, he’s 50 years old and never been in trouble before,” Sorrentino’s lawyer Arthur Weiss said outside court. “Unfortunately, he got involved in this.”

Bucci’s lawyer could not be reached for comment immediately Tuesday.

In August 2014, Sorrentino owned a paving company and was asked by a Macomb Township elected official to prepare a proposal for repaving the township hall parking lot, according to the plea agreement filed in federal court Tuesday.

Sorrentino submitted a $254,500 proposal to the elected official.

Two weeks later, the official told him to start the paving project.

“After (Sorrentino) appeared at the township hall parking lot that evening, he found that another company, which was unknown to (Sorrentino), was already tearing up the old parking lot for purposes of repaving it,” according to the plea deal.

Sorrentino’s company did none of the work repaving the parking lot but the township paid him $254,500.

The township official told Sorrentino to give $181,055 to the company that repaved the parking lot, according to the plea deal.

“In addition, the elected official instructed (Sorrentino) to give the elected official the remaining money, at least $73,000, to the official in cash,” according to the plea deal.

The elected official promised to give Sorrentino township work in the future.

To avoid IRS reporting requirements, Sorrentino wrote seven checks of less than $10,000 and gave $66,024 in cash to the elected official in November 2014.

“After the checks were cashed and (Sorrentino) had collected $66,024 in cash, the defendant delivered all of the cash to the elected official in the building housing the Macomb County Department of Public Works in Clinton Township,” according to the plea deal.

In 2015, Sorrentino was “awarded” another job by the township official to repave the township fire station parking lot. An unnamed second company, however, performed all of the work.

Yet in November 2015, Sorrentino received $264,703 from the township. Sorrentino funneled the money to the second company, prosecutors allege.

“In addition, (Sorrentino) gave at least $30,000 in cash to the elected official,” according to the plea deal.

“In the end, the defendant made no money on the two jobs for Macomb Township, but he instead lost money because of the taxes that he had to pay on the two jobs ‘awarded’ by the elected official of Macomb Township,” the plea deal reads.

The plea comes less than a week after James Pistilli, the former chief engineer of Macomb County, struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Pistilli, 68, of Holly conspired to give $2,000 to Washington Township public works superintendent Steven Hohensee, according to a court filing.

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

Sorrentino’s plea is the latest in a wide-ranging investigation into public officials pocketing bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Sterling Heights trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services and a towing company.

So far, 16 people have been charged.

Wrongdoing in Macomb Township has repeatedly factored into the investigation. In June, former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas, 44, pleaded guilty to demanding and accepting bribes.

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

FBI agents are asking questions about Bucci, Marrocco and payments to an unnamed county contractor, Miller said.


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Twitter: @robertsnellnews