Trash titan Rizzo strikes surprise plea deal with feds

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit – Former trash titan Chuck Rizzo and his father have reached plea deals with federal prosecutors and are expected to plead guilty next month for their roles in a wide-ranging public corruption scandal in Macomb County.

Rizzo, the former CEO of Rizzo Environmental Services, and his father, Charles Rizzo, are scheduled to plead guilty Nov. 9 in federal court in Port Huron, according to court records.

The deal with Chuck Rizzo would give prosecutors a conviction against one of the lead defendants in an ongoing scandal that has led to criminal charges against 17 people.

A guilty plea would complete a legal odyssey for the former trash company executive who has gone from star witness for the FBI to a target after he stopped cooperating with the government, fired his high-powered lawyer and got indicted in May.

“We don’t know what deal (Chuck Rizzo) had earlier but I would be surprised if this is any better,” said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “When you put the government to the test, they’re not going to give you a better deal.”

The 43-page indictment alleged Rizzo stole from his own company to bribe politicians while building his trash-hauling firm into a regional powerhouse spending some of the stolen cash building a $2.5 million mansion.

Lawyers for Chuck Rizzo and his father could not be reached for comment immediately late Wednesday.

The apparent plea deals are emerging approximately 13 months after the first public officials were charged in federal court with accepting bribes in exchange for awarding multimillion-dollar contracts to Rizzo’s company, which rose from a small player to dominate the garbage industry in Metro Detroit.

Since then, 17 people have been charged in the scandal and 10 have reached plea deals with federal prosecutors. One person died last week.

The breadth of Chuck Rizzo’s cooperation with the government was revealed one year ago, when Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds was arrested and accused of taking bribes.

Chuck Rizzo, 47, of Bloomfield Township, was not named in an initial indictment last year but sources confirmed he was the businessman who allegedly provided an ongoing stream of benefits to Reynolds to secure a municipal contract.

The businessman was the subject of a court-ordered wiretap, admitted responsibility when confronted by the government and agreed to cooperate with the investigation, according to the indictment.

Since Chuck Rizzo started cooperating, the case morphed into the largest and most complex public corruption scandal to hit Metro Detroit, since the racketeering conspiracy case against ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Yet last spring, Rizzo had cycled through at least two lawyers — including Bloomfield Hills attorney David DuMouchel, who is considered by many the dean of the criminal defense bar in Metro Detroit.

Rizzo stopped cooperating with the government early this year after splitting with DuMouchel, sources told The Detroit News.

It’s unclear what led to the split but it is believed to have revolved around whether Rizzo would need to serve a prison sentence after initially cooperating with the government, sources told The News.

Rizzo was indicted in May alongside Charles Rizzo, 70, of New Baltimore, and Detroit towing titan Gasper Fiore, 56, of Grosse Pointe Shores.

Fiore and Reynolds, the former Clinton Township trustee, were charged with multiple counts of bribery-related offenses in connection with a towing contract. In early 2016, Fiore allegedly gave Reynolds bribes totaling $7,000, prosecutors allege.

The bribes were funneled through Chuck Rizzo, according to the government.

Fiore, whose family owns Boulevard and Trumbull Towing, the city’s largest tow firm, has long been a dominant figure in the Detroit towing industry.

The nature of the Rizzo plea deals was unclear late Wednesday but could spell trouble for Fiore.

“This lets the government focus its fire on Fiore,” Henning said. “The government has been piling up evidence and guilty pleas so do you want to be the one standing and going to trial?

“Everybody understands there is a trial penalty,” Henning added. “You’re probably looking at a longer sentence if you don’t plead.”

The indictment also outlines a vast fraud scheme to steal money from Rizzo’s garbage company from 2013 until it was sold one year ago to a Canadian firm, Green for Life Environmental Inc.

Rizzo, his father, Fiore, Bloomfield Hills resident Derrick Hicks and others plotted to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from Rizzo Environmental Services using a fake legal settlement agreement, fraudulent consulting deals, kickbacks, shell companies and stealing money to help pay for Chuck Rizzo’s mansion in Bloomfield Township, the government alleges.

Some of the stolen money bankrolled bribes for public officials to maintain and secure additional municipal garbage contracts, prosecutors say.

Chuck Rizzo called the embezzled cash OPM, short for “other people’s money,” according to prosecutors.

The indictment also indicated investigators have seized more than $4 million during the ongoing investigation. Prosecutors are trying to have the Rizzos forfeit proceeds from the sale of their minority interest in Rizzo Environmental Services.

In all, Chuck Rizzo was charged with five counts of bribery and three counts of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Chuck Rizzo, Charles Rizzo, Fiore and Hicks were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Charles Rizzo also was charged with seven counts of mail and wire fraud, while his son was charged with 12 counts of mail and wire fraud.

The bribery charges are 10-year felonies and carry $250,000 fines. The mail and wire fraud counts are 20-year felonies and carry $250,000 fines.

Bribery conspiracy, meanwhile, is a five-year felony and carries a $250,000 fine.

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