Romulus ex-Mayor Burcroff pleads guilty in federal corruption case

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Former Romulus Mayor LeRoy Burcroff pleaded guilty Thursday to wire fraud after being accused of spending more than $15,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.

Burcroff, 58, pleaded guilty in federal court in Detroit three months after prosecutors charged the politician from the Wayne County community, alleging he defrauded campaign donors who thought the money would be spent on re-election expenses. Instead, prosecutors say he spent the money on his daughter's wedding, a Florida vacation, flowers, a $4,500 booze bill and dues and expenses at the Belleville Yacht Club.

Former Romulus Mayor LeRoy Burcroff, right

Residents "deserve to be served by public officials of the highest integrity," Detroit U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said in a statement. "Those who abuse positions of trust by misusing campaign donations for their own benefit will face stiff consequences."

Wire fraud is a 20-year felony, though the advisory guideline range cited by prosecutors would send Burcroff to prison for up to 14 months. His lawyer Walter Piszczatowski argued the range is no higher than 10 months; the sentence ultimately will be decided Dec. 8 by U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood.

"This case is yesterday’s news. LeRoy decided not to run for reelection in 2021 and the campaign fund has been fully reimbursed," Piszczatowski told The Detroit News. "If you talk to people that know and have worked with LeRoy, rather than talking to his political enemies, they will all tell you LeRoy always gave 100% of his best efforts to his hometown, the city of Romulus — and even gave money back out of his payroll check to the city when it was experiencing tough financial times.”

Burcroff is the latest current or former public official convicted during a more than decade-long federal assault on corruption within municipal government and organized labor around Metro Detroit. That crackdown has led to charges against more than 110 people and the convictions of the two past presidents of the United Auto Workers union, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and two dozen contractors and public officials in Macomb County.

“Burcoff betrayed his supporters and neighbors, the people of Wayne County, by embezzling their donations to fund his lifestyle,” said James Tarasca, special agent in chart of the FBI's office in Detroit.

Burcroff is the second Wayne County politician charged in federal court in recent years and accused of spending campaign cash on personal expenses.

Former Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars is awaiting trial in a federal corruption case that involves allegations he cashed more than $30,000 worth of campaign checks at a party store while corrupting a city foreclosed-property program.

In Burcroff's case, as part of the alleged scheme, the then-mayor wired a $2,400-plus payment to the Belleville Yacht Club in November 2017 from the “Committee to Elect LeRoy D. Burcroff" checking account, prosecutors alleged.

He pleaded guilty 13 months after federal investigators sent a grand jury subpoena to the Wayne County Clerk's Office about the mayor's campaign finance statements. The subpoena followed questions about the spending of campaign money in 2013 on the wedding of Burcroff's daughter. 

Burcroff's former lawyer, Daniel Wholihan, told The News last year that the mayor had returned at least $4,500 in campaign funds used to cover the wedding costs. 

Burcroff was first elected in 2013 but did not run for re-election in November amid questions about the FBI investigation. He was succeeded by Robert McCraight.

"LeRoy is proud of the fact that along with his team, he helped turn the city around which before his tenure as mayor was experiencing furloughed employees, layoffs and closed parks," Piszczatowski said Thursday.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews