Editorial: Charge the bribe givers

The Detroit News

The widening probe of trash hauling contracts in Macomb County has landed two local officials in federal court on bribery charges. And yet so far, the company accused of paying the bribes has not been criminally charged.

That’s curious, but follows something of a pattern in public corruption cases. The bribe takers get prosecuted, but the bribe givers don’t.

That was largely true in the criminal case against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, now serving a 28-year federal prison term for shaking down city contractors.

While a couple of businessmen were prosecuted for paying off Kilpatrick and his henchman — former construction firm owner Bobby Ferguson — most of the city vendors and contractors implicated in the indictment as payers of bribes did not face charges.

Prosecutors may feel the politicians and local officials are the bigger fish, since they violated the public trust and cheated the taxpayers. And in many cases, the businesses are able to cut deals for their testimony against the politicians.

But it takes two parties to complete a bribe. If contractors and vendors believe there are no consequences for offering pay-offs to get municipal work, they’ll just keep doing it.

The Macomb County case involves Rizzo Environmental Services, one of the largest trash haulers in the state.

Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds, a Democrat running for township supervisor, is charged with taking $50,000 to $70,000 in cash bribes from Rizzo in exchange for supporting the firm’s $3.5 million annual contract bid.

In Macomb Township, Trustee Clifford Freitas is accused of taking $7,500 from Rizzo.

In an unrelated civil suit, a second Macomb Township trustee, Dino Bucci, is being sued along with the township by a developer who claims Bucci demanded a $76,000 kickback before returning $151,000 in construction and sewer permit fees.

Investigators apparently wiretapped both the local officials and a Rizzo executive discussing the bribes.

The company says it is cooperating with authorities. Rizzo has since been sold to another firm, and it’s head, Chuck Rizzo Jr., has resigned.

But if Rizzo did indeed pay bribes to get local contracts, it should not walk away unscathed.

Company executives who knew about the bribes and authorized their payments should pay a price, along with the local officials who took them.

That’s the only way those who believe bribery is part of the cost of doing business in Macomb County, and elsewhere, will get the message that bribe givers face risks, too.