Judge revokes Rizzo’s bond, orders him to prison
A federal judge Thursday revoked the bond of disgraced trash titan Chuck Rizzo and ordered him to surrender to federal agents amid allegations he tried to tamper with an FBI witness.
U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland’s order came two days after Rizzo launched a last-minute bid to avoid having his bond revoked while explaining an encounter with the FBI witness at a Detroit casino Christmas party in December.
After an almost five-hour hearing Thursday in federal court in Port Huron, Rizzo was ordered to surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service by noon Tuesday. Rizzo was trying to remain free pending a March 13 sentencing in federal court.
The decision marks a new low point for a once-powerful business mogul who is at the center of a widespread corruption scandal that started in Macomb County and spread to Detroit.
It is rare for a federal judge to revoke the bond of a white-collar defendant, said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor.
“Rarely do they present a physical threat but it happens when they are simply spurning the system and acting so far outside the norm that a judge feels the need to crack down,” Henning said. “This does not bode well for sentencing.”
Rizzo’s lawyers provided text messages, Facebook posts and phone records to show the former CEO of Rizzo Environmental Services unintentionally ran into FBI witness Quintin Ramanauskas. The former trash CEO’s lawyers say Ramanauskas appeared inebriated and questioned his version of events, saying he had incentive to lie because Ramanauskas was convicted alongside Rizzo and is awaiting a prison sentence.
The Dec. 16 encounter at MGM Grand Casino happened while Rizzo was awaiting a possible 10-year federal prison sentence. Rizzo, 47, of Bloomfield Hills pleaded guilty in November, admitting he bribed Macomb County politicians and stole money from his trash-hauling company while building Rizzo Environmental Services into a regional powerhouse.
“This is going to make it much harder to make a plausible case to the judge that you are contrite,” Henning said. “(Rizzo) is in a terrible position.”
While free on $10,000 unsecured bond, Rizzo was barred from contacting witnesses or co-defendants. Prosecutors last month asked Cleland to revoke Rizzo’s bond, saying he tried to tamper with a government witness during a chance encounter at a Detroit casino Christmas party.
Rizzo testified during the hearing Thursday along with his father, Charles Rizzo, who also has pleaded guilty for his role in the scandal and is awaiting a prison sentence. Ramanauskas and his wife also testified Thursday.
Chuck Rizzo tried to counter government claims that he violated bond conditions and tried to tamper with Ramanauskas by getting him to lie about cash generated by a lucrative embezzlement scheme.
Rizzo’s lawyers raised questions about whether Ramanauskas violated his own bond conditions by excessively drinking alcohol the day of the casino encounter. Defense lawyer David Debold filed Facebook posts by Ramanauskas’ wife from a Detroit bar an hour before the casino meeting – including a photo of two shot glasses on a table at the Miracle on the Skip bar in downtown Detroit.
Ramanauskas, 53, of Shelby Township was a trusted employee and associate of Rizzo’s and agreed to help the executive bribe politicians in Clinton Township and Chesterfield Township.
He pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. He could spend up to five years in federal prison.
Rizzo’s father was at the casino Dec. 16 and witnessed the meeting. Charles Rizzo filed a letter Tuesday in federal court indicating Ramanauskas appeared inebriated.
“At this time, it appeared to me that he was slightly inebriated, though I did not know how many drinks he had consumed,” Charles Rizzo wrote. “I noticed that he appeared slightly inebriated because he was being friendlier than when he is sober, was touching the people around him more than when he is sober, and was apologizing more than he needed to for being at the casino on the same night that we were having our company holiday party.”
Charles Rizzo attacked a central claim by the government in its attempt to revoke Chuck Rizzo’s bond.
Prosecutors alleged that Chuck Rizzo berated Ramanauskas and blamed him for the potentially long prison sentence.
“Rizzo then chastised (Ramanauskas) for telling federal authorities that their theft scheme from (Rizzo Environmental Services) started in 2014, which put the total of the stolen money over $500,000,” prosecutors wrote in a filing last month.
Not true, Rizzo’s father wrote in a filing Tuesday.
The meeting, and a second chat 90 minutes later at the casino, were cordial, Charles Rizzo wrote. In the letter, he referred to his son as “Junior.”
“Junior did not ‘berate’ Quint or have a heated or angry conversation with him,” Charles Rizzo wrote. “Junior did not ‘chastise’ Quint or complain that it was Quint’s fault for ‘telling federal authorities that their theft scheme from RES started in 2014. ...’”