Suit: Bucci should forfeit pay, benefits after taking bribes

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

 A candidate for the Macomb Township board has filed a lawsuit seeking recovery of all pay and benefits received by former township trustee Dino Bucci, who is awaiting sentencing on federal charges in a public corruption probe.

Bucci, 60, pleaded guilty in May to extortion and conspiracy to commit theft concerning programs with federal funds. He has admitted his role in a “pay-to-play” scheme in which he solicited and accepted more than $60,000 in bribes from a contractor in exchange for a lucrative paving job in the township.

Dino Bucci

The complaint from Attorney Frank Cusumano Jr., one of seven candidates running for four board seats in the Nov. 3 election, seeks recovery of all of Bucci’s salary and wages since Nov. 5, 2014 — the date he has admitted taking his first bribe from Christopher Sorrentino — until his retirement in November 2018. Sorrentino faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 21 for paying kickbacks to Bucci.

The suit, filed in Macomb County Circuit Court, seeks treble damages to all received payments, an amount Cusumano estimated at $382,000.

“It’s about time for a reckoning,” Cusumano said. “Taxpayers should not be victimized again and again. … The people of Macomb Township have been taken for a joyride by Bucci (and others) for far too long.

"This litigation hopefully will serve as a roadmap for honest township public officials and citizen activists seeking recovery from corrupt township officials in the federal dragnet and the federal cases," he said. "Where and when public corruption takes place, the consequences need to be tough."

Fred Gibson, an attorney for Bucci, said Monday he did not know if Bucci had been served with the complaint and declined comment.

Under a sentencing agreement, Bucci faces up to 10 years in a federal prison, but federal prosecutors have said they will seek a lower sentence due to his poor health and his cooperation in ongoing investigations, including one involving former Macomb County public works commissioner Anthony Marrocco.

Marrocco has pleaded not guilty to charges that he extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from business owners and contractors.

While working for Marrocco between 1994 and 2016, Bucci solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars from engineering contractors and others for Marrocco’s campaign fundraisers. He was elected to the township board in 2000.

According to the lawsuit, he personally profited by collecting thousands of dollars in salary, meeting fees and pension and retirement benefits for two years after accepting the bribes.

Bucci, the lawsuit contends, converted $32,388.60 in principal and gains traceable to township employee contributions. Bucci withdrew all employee and employer retirement pension funds in his township account, according to township records, Cusumano said. But he was not entitled to any of those funds because he had effectively forfeited his office by taking bribes, Cusumano said.

Cusumano said while a state forfeiture statute allows the Michigan Attorney General or county prosecutor to request that an individual’s pension funds be frozen, neither did.

“Bucci slipped through the cracks and converted monies belonging to the Township,” Cusumano said.

Bucci has surrendered $66,000 in kickbacks but owes another $30,000 as part of his guilty plea.

Bucci was the latest of 23 people convicted in a lengthy crackdown on public corruption. Former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith resigned during a separate state probe of his improper use of funds from drug and drunken driving cases.

The lawsuit is assigned to Macomb Circuit Judge James M. Biernat Jr.

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