Thursday, October 29, 2020

Former Macomb County Commissioner Anthony Marrocco indicted on corruption charges

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Former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, the key figure in a 3-year-old federal corruption investigation and a longtime political powerhouse, has been indicted on charges involving an alleged extortion scheme spanning two decades, according to court records unsealed Wednesday.

The indictment of Marrocco, 71, of Ray Township comes three years after the federal government planted a bull’s-eye on Macomb County in a corruption probe that has ensnared more than 20 individuals, including ex-garbage tycoon Chuck Rizzo and towing titan Gasper Fiore — both of whom got prison after pleading guilty to bribery.

Unlike Fiore and Rizzo, however, Marrocco has no interest in cutting any deals with the feds, if allegations in the indictment are any indication.

“They’ll convict me of murder before they convict me of corruption,” Marrocco told an underling on multiple occasions during his years-long scheme,  the indictment states.

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Marrocco, whose alleged extortion scheme ran from 1994 through 2016, is charged with two counts of extortion and one count of attempted extortion for allegedly using an aide and others to shake down builders and contractors for donations to his fundraisers. And if they didn’t cough up the money, the indictment says, Marrocco retaliated by holding up building permits, denying payment to vendors and refusing to award contracts to firms.

Marrocco’s lawyer, Steve Fishman, scoffed at the charges.

“Extortion? There was no extortion.  No one was forced to do anything,” Fishman wrote in an email to the Free Press. “People either contributed to the fundraisers or they didn’t, just like in any other political campaign.  As the Temptations used to sing, ‘The further you look, the less you see.’  Should be a very interesting trial.”

According to the indictment, Marrocco directed his DPW underling Dino Bucci and others at DPW to pressure builders and contractors in Macomb County to purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars in tickets to his twice-yearly fundraisers.

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Bucci, who was also charged and cooperated with investigators, is scheduled to plead guilty to his role in the scheme Thursday.

Marrocco allegedly kept lists of those who bought tickets from Bucci and others,  and those who did not. And he would punish those who did not purchase tickets, prosecutors allege, by either holding up their building permits, delaying their payments or denying them contracts.

As for those who did buy tickets to Marrocco’s fundraisers, the indictment alleges that they only did so because they feared economic retaliation by Marrocco.

The indictment also alleges that Marrocco used some of his extortion victims’ money to bankroll his lifestyle, spending it on air travel, car rentals, dinners at high-end restaurants, condo association charges, spa visits, wedding and holiday gifts, and yacht club charges.

“The two decades of alleged extortion by Mr. Marrocco show an obscene abuse of power and a grave betrayal of the trust of the citizens of Macomb County,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in announcing the indictment. “The fact that he is now facing four 20-year felonies is well-deserved and a consequence that was long overdue.”

For Marrocco’s adversaries, the indictment was long overdue.

“There’s nothing in there that is surprising to me,” Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, Marrocco’s successor, said of the indictment. “He was feared, and everybody was afraid of him.”

She added that pay-to-play politics “had to end in that office.”

Miller, a Republican, handily defeated Marrocco, a Democrat, in 2016 in a hotly contested and expensive race.  She said that when she ran against Marrocco, builders and contractors were afraid to support her, telling her: ”We’ll never get a permit, and we won’t be able to do business anymore.”

Miller recalled there was no transition after the 2016 election and said she wasn’t allowed in the public works building until the day she took office in January 2017.

By then, the department was dealing with a football-field-sized sinkhole on 15 Mile in Fraser that occurred on Christmas Eve 2016; and Marrocco, she said, was in Florida.

But Bucci, Marrocco’s right-hand man, was at the door when she arrived. He told her that he was showing up for work, but Miller placed Bucci on paid administrative leave, and he retired a month later.

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Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said he, too, wasn’t surprised by Marrocco’s indictment.

“He was, without question, using his public office for personal gain for years,” Hackel said. “He was the bully on the playground that public officials worried about.”

Regarding Marrocco and Bucci, Hackel said: “The day has finally come that they are being held accountable of something they’ve been doing for decades. People were fearful.

“Everybody knew this about Tony,” Hackel said, “but everybody was afraid to do something about it.”

Marrocco is among 22 public officials and bribe-paying businessmen who have been charged and convicted in the wideranging probe, including two defendants convicted after jury trials.

To date, the stiffest punishment handed down in the case went to former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds, who is serving 17 years for bribery after a jury convicted him at trial. Rizzo got 5½  years for bribery after cutting a deal; Fiore, 59, of Grosse Pointe Shores, got 21 months through his plea agreement, admitting he paid $7,000 in cash bribes to Reynolds for help with a towing contract.

In addition to the millionaire businessmen,  among the key figures ensnared in the probe is Bucci, 60, who was indicted on more than a dozen counts of conspiracy, bribery, embezzlement, extortion, mail fraud and money laundering involving public contracts.

According to court records, Bucci is scheduled to plead guilty at 12:30 p.m. Thursday before U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland in Port Huron.

Bucci’s lawyer, Stephen Rabaut, could not be readily reached for comment.

If convicted, Marrocco faces up to 20 ​​​​years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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