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Detroit — Former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco was released on $100,000 unsecured bond Monday after being arraigned on charges he extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from business owners and contractors.

Marrocco, 71, of Ray Township, appeared via a Zoom video chat five days after federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against one of the key figures charged in a years-long public corruption investigation. The investigation has led to the convictions of 23 people, including his right-hand-man Dino Bucci. 

The arraignment provided a rare look at Marrocco, who was one of the region's most powerful politicians until losing election in 2016 and being identified as a target of an FBI wiretap probe into public corruption.

Marrocco attended the arraignment from an undisclosed location, dressed in a dark suit, a red tie and wearing a frown on his face, a sharp contrast to the broad smiles he flashed at county events while in office. He yawned at one point and responded to U.S. Magistrate Judge David Grand's questions with clipped "yes," answers.

Marrocco was released on an unusually large unsecured bond. Most defendants released while awaiting trial are freed on $10,000 unsecured bond but court officials recommended a $100,000 unsecured bond because Marrocco has a high net worth.

"He’s not going anywhere, so the number doesn’t matter," Marrocco's lawyer, Steve Fishman, told the magistrate judge.

The indictment portrays the Democrat as a tough-talking bully and a strong-arming official who considered himself untouchable during a decades-long reign. He threatening 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.

Builders and contractors bought hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of tickets to fundraisers and 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.

The government is using aliases to publicly refer to most of the companies that prosecutors say were victimized by Marrocco. But court records in the Bucci case help identify one firm.

In January 2015, Marrocco told Bucci to hold up a real estate development in Macomb County called Riviera Ridge, according to Bucci's plea deal with the government. At the time, Bucci served as an elected Republican trustee on the Macomb Township board.

Marrocco wanted to stall the project because an individual associated with the development, identified in court records as "Developer C," had refused to purchase tickets to fundraising events, prosecutors alleged. Bucci, acting on Marrocco's direction, held up soil erosion permits for the luxury residential development north of 22 Mile Road in Macomb Township.

State business filings indicate Riviera Ridge LLC was organized in 2007. The resident agent initially was the late developer John Cavaliere, although other members of the prominent family of builders have been listed on state records in ensuing years, including Lorenzo Cavaliere.

Lorenzo Cavaliere did not respond to a message seeking comment Monday.

Bucci called one of the owners of the project and explained Marrocco was holding up the development until the developer made campaign contributions, prosecutors said.

Soon after, $2,000 was contributed to Marrocco's fundraiser.

Bucci pleaded guilty to theft and extortion conspiracies Thursday, admitting the $2,000 donation was made because the donor feared economic harm.

The indictment is political, Marrocco's lawyer previously told The News.

"This case is about politics, not criminal activity," Fishman wrote in an email. "Just like every other elected official, Tony Marrocco held campaign events and invited people to contribute. Whether they did or not was entirely up to them. No one was forced to do anything."

In all, Marrocco was charged with four counts, including conspiracy to commit extortion, extortion and attempted extortion. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison.

FBI agents spent at least six years investigating Marrocco as part of a broader focus on public corruption in Macomb County. The list of public officials and businessmen convicted of corruption-related crimes includes trash mogul Chuck Rizzo, towing titan Gasper Fiore and former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds, who is serving a 17-year federal sentence, one of the longest in the history of Metro Detroit.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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