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Detroit — Former Macomb Township Trustee Dino Bucci pleaded guilty Thursday to embezzling money, extorting contractors and serving as the bagman for ex-county public works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco during a decades-long extortion conspiracy.

The allegations were outlined in a new criminal case that accused Bucci of stealing public tax dollars and extorting businessmen during a crime spree that spanned his tenure as a Republican politician and his county job working for Marrocco. The criminal case was filed hours after Marrocco was indicted and accused of orchestrating a conspiracy that extorted money from country contractors that prosecutors say was spent on personal luxuries.

Bucci, 60, faces up to 10 years in federal prison but prosecutors will recommend a lower sentence due to his “extraordinarily poor health,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta told U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland.

Bucci, dressed in a dark suit and wearing a blue striped tie, appeared gaunt during the videoconference, and admitted he forced contractors to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Marrocco's campaign fundraisers.

“They had to buy these or bad things would happen to them economically, isn’t that right?" Bullotta asked Bucci.

"Yes, Mr. Bullotta," Bucci said.

Cleland tentatively scheduled sentencing for Oct. 1. 

Bucci is the latest among 23 people convicted in a years-long crackdown on public corruption in Macomb County. Marrocco, meanwhile, is expected to make an initial appearance Monday in federal court and The Detroit News exclusively reported in March that former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith is negotiating a deal to plead guilty to forthcoming federal corruption charges.

“Bucci’s guilty pleas today represent a significant milestone in our sweeping corruption investigation in Macomb County," U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement. "The lengthy prison sentence he faces should be an unambiguous warning to all public officials who consider committing corrupt acts that they will be caught and punished severely.”

The plea is the latest development in a legal odyssey that transformed Bucci from what prosecutors portrayed as a bullyinginept crook into a cooperating witness. Since being indicted three years ago, Bucci has helped the FBI and Internal Revenue Service build a case against one of the most powerful politicians in Macomb County who was once thought bulletproof.

The hearing also marked one of the first public signs of progress since Bucci was indicted three years ago. He was accused 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.

The extortion conspiracy started in 1994, the year Bucci started working for Marrocco, prosecutors said. They teamed up to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars from real estate developers, engineering firm employees, municipal contractors and other victims, according to the criminal case.

Marrocco directed Bucci and others to solicit money from victims who bought tickets for Marrocco's fundraisers, yearly holiday parties and summer golf outings, according to the government.

Bucci "would communicate to the victims that if they did not purchase tickets to Marrocco's fundraisers ... the victims would suffer adverse economic consequences caused by Marrocco," prosecutors alleged in the criminal case.

Marrocco threatened to yank municipal contracts, withhold permits and, in May 2016, removed an unidentified excavation firm from a multi-million dollar sinkhole repair project because the company held a fundraiser for Marrocco's political opponent, according to the government.

Some of the money financed Marrocco's luxury lifestyle, prosecutors said. That included flights, car rentals, dinners at expensive restaurants, condominium association fees, spa visits, wedding and holiday gifts and yacht club expenses, prosecutors said.

In 2000, while still working for Marrocco, Bucci was elected to the Macomb Township board.

The elected job would provide more illegal revenue for Bucci, prosecutors said.

In summer 2014, he conspired with paving contractor Christopher Sorrentino to steal money from Macomb Township taxpayers, according to the criminal case.

The 52-year-old Macomb Township contractor funneled at least $96,000 in kickbacks to Bucci, including money delivered in a bag to the county public works office in Clinton Township, prosecutors said. In exchange, Sorrentino was awarded township paving contracts worth more than $500,000, prosecutors said.

Bucci has surrendered $66,000 already. As part of his guilty plea, Bucci must pay an additional $30,000.

Sorrentino, meanwhile, pleaded guilty three years ago and faces 10-16 months in federal prison. He will be sentenced in July and could receive a lighter sentence because he cooperated with investigators.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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