Feds: ‘Pay-to-play politics’ in Macomb County
Detroit – Dino Bucci, the Macomb Township trustee and former right-hand man of Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, was indicted Wednesday in connection with the county corruption scandal.
Bucci was charged with bribery, extortion, fraud, theft and money laundering in an 18-count indictment that accuses the politician of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars while extorting engineering contractors who wanted public contracts, forcing county employees to drive his child to school and plow snow at his home.
Bucci, 58, is the 18th person charged in a wide-ranging investigation focused on at least three fronts: Macomb County politicians pocketing bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Sterling Heights trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services, Grosse Pointe Shores businessman Gasper Fiore’s towing empire, and the Macomb County Public Works office.
County employees and contractors have complained about corruption and spoken to federal agents, county Executive Mark Hackel said Wednesday.
“This was the Macomb County version of Al Capone,” Hackel said in an interview.
The indictment comes one month after Bucci was prominently referenced in a plea deal involving township contractor Christopher Sorrentino. Sorrentino admitted delivering $66,000 in bribes to an unnamed politician at the public works office. The News previously reported that Bucci was the unnamed politician.
“Today’s sweeping indictment...embodies our unbending resolve to unwind long established pay-to-play politics and call to task corrupt officials no matter where they seek to violate the public trust,” acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch said in a statement.
Bucci’s lawyer could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Prosecutors allege Bucci participated in a nine-year bribery conspiracy with other public officials and contractors.
The criminal allegations against Bucci involve several other figures who have been charged amid the year-long investigation. Those include Rizzo Environmental Services CEO Chuck Rizzo, former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas and engineering contractor Paulin Modi.
If convicted, Bucci could spend more than 20 years in federal prison. He has not been arrested and could be arraigned Thursday in federal court.
Bucci directed contractors to give him tens of thousands of dollars in cash, checks and gift cards in exchange for public contracts, according to the government.
Contractors also gave him hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks and cash for political fundraising events, including golf outings and dinners in exchange for county and township contracts, according to the indictment.
“This is a game-changing moment for people in Macomb County and setting the stage so people can no longer be afraid of public officials,” Hackel said.
Hackel said he encouraged county employees and contractors to talk to federal investigators after hearing complaints.
“People were impacted by this, people were getting shaken down, people were getting harassed,” Hackel said. “I’m glad that the feds were listening.”
During the conspiracy, Bucci also served as operations manager for the county’s public works office.
Prosecutors describe a “pay-to-play” culture that required contractors to give money to Bucci and buy tickets to political fundraisers for the township politician and political allies.
Bucci used his county and township positions to extort money from people by threatening to withhold development permits and home construction, prosecutors said. Bucci pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in cash and kickbacks during a five-year period, according to the indictment.
The indictment “saddened and angered” township Supervisor Janet Dunn.
“At the outset we shall do everything in our power to recoup from anybody responsible any money wrongfully taken from the township,” she said in a statement. “All other legal options available to us will be considered. Meanwhile, we shall continue to respect the legal process and I encourage all township employees to continue to cooperate with any further investigation.”
Bucci stole from the county by using employees and equipment on personal projects, prosecutors said. He forced employees to plow snow at his home and his mom’s house “every time it snowed,” prosecutors said.
During heavy snowfalls, Bucci forced county employees to plow at his friends’ and relatives’ homes, according to the indictment.
County employees were forced to plow snow at Bucci’s home before plowing county facilities, prosecutors said.
“The crimes as alleged in today’s indictment highlight a pervasive pattern of past corrupt and illegal practices in Macomb County,” David Gelios, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office said in a statement.
The charges also come five months after new Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said a federal grand jury was investigating her office during Marrocco’s tenure and had subpoenaed testimony from about a dozen public employees.
FBI agents were asking questions about Marrocco, who lost to Miller in the November election; Bucci, his former deputy; and millions of dollars in payments to an unnamed county contractor, Miller said.
On Wednesday, Miller recounted how, in one of her first acts as commissioner, she had Bucci escorted from the building.
“The scenario described in the federal indictment of Dino Bucci handed down today does not represent Macomb County values and is an affront to the sensibilities of the residents of our community,” Miller said in a statement. “The goals of the Macomb County Public Works Office are Clean Water and Clean Government. Therefore, we appreciate the hard work done by the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office and other agencies to stamp out corruption in Macomb County.”
The indictment caps a tumultuous year for Bucci.
He was placed on administrative leave from his $75,000-a-year job as operations manager for the engineering department in January. He retired after being accused in a civil lawsuit of soliciting a $76,000 kickback from a local investment company that wanted a refund on certain development fees.
In February, Miller wrote a letter accusing Bucci of “corruption, extortion, bullying and unethical behavior” while outlining how a county internal investigation determined he could face discipline or be fired.
Rather than respond to Miller’s letter, Bucci resigned after working for the county since 1993.