Macomb pizza baron bound for prison in pandemic fraud case

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Macomb County pizza baron who tried to illegally obtain almost $1 million in emergency aid designed to help entrepreneurs survive the pandemic was sentenced to almost three years in federal prison Tuesday.

Michael Bischoff

Michael Bischoff of Macomb Township, owner of several restaurants including Little Dino’s Pizza Express and Passport Pizza, was sentenced to 32 months by U.S. District Judge Paul Borman, almost one year after pleading guilty to a count of bank fraud. Bischoff admitted trying to obtain $931,000 in loans under the Paycheck Protection Program overseen by the Small Business Administration.

At least nine of the loan applications contained false information, including the amount of payroll and number of employees, and he used another person’s personal information to secure approval of approximately $593,590.

The sentence is the latest legal problem for a repeat offender who perpetrated one of the largest pandemic-related fraud cases in Metro Detroit. Nationwide, federal officials have analyzed data that shows approximately $4.6 billion in potentially fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loans.

"Such repeated false and fraudulent conduct reflects Bischoff’s calculated willingness to lie for money, his greed, and his complete lack of concern about defrauding a program designed to help struggling small businesses during a national crisis," federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. "Bischoff’s crimes were significant ones."

Prosecutors sought a 41-month sentence, noting Bischoff's rap sheet includes convictions for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud. They also credited Bischoff for paying full restitution.

"A defendant willing to take advantage of a program designed and intended to help keep our economy afloat during a pandemic is richly deserving of a serious punishment," prosecutors added.

Bischoff is a beloved figure, a charitable, ashamed man who broke the law amid a difficult divorce and financial problems during a pandemic that left him "barely able to make ends meet and continue to employ his staff," defense lawyer, James C. Thomas, wrote in a sentencing memo.

"Quite simply, he cheated," Thomas wrote. 

Bischoff did not spend most of the loans and, instead, repaid the money before pleading guilty, his lawyer added while requesting a sentence of as little as eight months.

Bischoff is dealing with medical ailments and a lengthy prison sentence was unnecessary, Thomas wrote.

Despite the scandal, Bischoff wants to keep working in the pizza industry.

"His ability to attract potential investors or partners again will also be hindered by his felony conviction, his shame and the publicity surrounding this case," Thomas wrote.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews