FBI witness dies amid Macomb corruption probe

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A cooperating FBI witness in the Macomb County corruption scandal, who helped secure charges against others in the case, died Wednesday, two days after being released on bond.

Steven Hohensee

Former Washington Township public works superintendent Steven Hohensee died of apparent natural causes, Shelby Township Deputy Police Chief Mark Coil said. The impact on the widespread corruption case, which has led to 16 people being charged with crimes, was unclear Friday.

Hohensee, 61, of Shelby Township died two days after a federal magistrate released him on $10,000 unsecured bond. The married father of four was charged in July with accepting $10,000 in bribes from a confidential FBI source — a 10-year felony — and was expected to plead guilty.

Township police did not know Hohensee factored into the FBI investigation until Friday. After learning about his role in the scandal from The Detroit News, police decided to take another look at Hohensee’s death.

“This man wasn’t on our radar, we didn’t know who this man was or what part he played in this (FBI) investigation,” Coil said. “Our investigators and the (Macomb County) medical examiner will take another look to rule out foul play.”

An autopsy was to be conducted Friday, Macomb County Medical Examiner Daniel Spitz said.

“There are questions about why he died,” Spitz said. “We’re looking into it.”

Autopsy results likely won’t be available until after his office completes additional tests, Spitz added.

Hohensee had suffered from “significant” health issues lately, his lawyer Martin Crandall said Friday.

“He was a gentleman, a wonderful father, wonderful husband and a real asset to our community,” Crandall said. “He was a very giving person and a veteran of the United States Navy.”

The bribery charge will be dismissed, Crandall said.

Hohensee’s death is the latest development in a wide-ranging scandal involving public officials pocketing bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Sterling Heights trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services and a towing company.

Hohensee’s role in the investigation became more clear this fall as others charged in the scandal reached plea deals with the government.

Former Macomb County Public Works Department chief engineer James Pistilli and engineer Paulin Modi conspired to pay Hohensee a $2,000 bribe in 2014, prosecutors allege.

Hohensee, however, was cooperating with the FBI at the time.

Pistilli, 68, of Holly, and Modi, 48, of Troy, have since reached plea deals and are awaiting sentencing in federal court.

A third man, paving contractor Christopher Sorrentino, struck a plea deal Wednesday — the same day Hohensee died — and admitted delivering $66,000 in kickbacks to a Macomb Township official. That official is township Trustee Dino Bucci, The Detroit News has learned.

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