|FBI records: Gasper Fiore knew how to pull the levers of political power — except one
Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press Published 5:10 p.m. ET Jan. 5, 2018 | Updated 4:50 a.m. ET Jan. 6, 2018
LANSING – Towing magnate Gasper Fiore knew how to pay off political officials, wine and dine top police bosses and secretly fund expenses such as campaign billboards, wiretap evidence filed in federal court shows.
But there was one fundamental part of the political process Fiore, 57, didn’t get, records show.
How to vote.
“Fiore spoke to (his daughter) Jennifer Fiore on May 26, 2016,” an FBI agent said in an affidavit seeking to continue a wiretap on Fiore’s cell phone.
“They began the conversation with Fiore asking his daughter how to register to vote.”
The apparent reason for the sudden interest?
Brian Banks, then a Democratic state lawmaker the FBI affidavit alleges was involved in "bid-rigging" for Fiore — and who also happened to represent the Grosse Pointe Shores district where Fiore lived — was in danger of losing his House seat in what was expected to be a close election.
Banks, who has prior criminal convictions but has not been charged in the Fiore case, denied the bid-rigging allegation Friday.
Banks issued a statement to the Free Press that said the Fiores were his constituents and "it was my normal practice to be an accessible state representative and a key focus of my office was for constituents to know that I worked for them and they could reach me personally, as many of them have my direct telephone number."
During the conversation the FBI recorded about how to vote, Fiore’s daughter “explained the process and told him to have the Secretary of State send an absentee ballot to the house and she would vote for him,” the affidavit said.
"Gonna be a close vote?" Gasper Fiore asked.
"I think ... think so," his daughter replied.
Banks won a hotly contested Democratic primary in 2016, as well as the general election. But he resigned his House seat in February 2017 when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor related to falsifying documents to obtain a $3,000 loan. Banks has prior felony convictions for financial crimes, such as credit card fraud and writing bad checks.
Banks is now a candidate for a state Senate seat in Detroit.
Gasper Fiore awaits a May sentencing on a bribery conspiracy charge after recently pleading guilty to bribing a township official in Macomb County to win a towing contract, as part of a wider corruption case, through a deal with federal prosecutors. He faces up to five years in prison.
The FBI affidavit and partial wiretap transcript prosecutors submitted in support of a wiretap on Fiore's phone — which was briefly unsealed through a defense attorney's filing error and obtained by the Free Press — show Banks offering assistance to Fiore family members in retaining a $2-million-a-year Michigan Department of Transportation courtesy van contract that was up for bid in 2016.
Recorded conversations between Gasper Fiore and his ex-wife, Joan Fiore, included in the affidavit suggest the Fiores wanted contract language that required at least five years' experience and would eliminate at least one competitor from eligibility. But the family eventually learned they would win the contract without the need for that language, the records show.
This week, the Michigan Department of Transportation released to the Free Press language that Banks requested to have inserted in MDOT budget legislation around the time the department was putting the courtesy van contract out to bid.
The wording submitted by Banks said that in soliciting proposals for contracted services, other than construction contracts, MDOT was to obtain assurance the contractor has "the financial capability, equipment, workforce, and prior work experience" to perform the service.
Including that language made sense, MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson said.
Additional language submitted by Banks was adopted in the House version of the legislation but removed from the Senate version, at the urging of MDOT, Cranson said.
The language the Senate removed said MDOT couldn't spend money on a contract providing services to the public unless the contractor had completed a "pre-qualification process" prior to the department's release of a request for proposals.
MDOT viewed that language as too broad and felt it would "inhibit competition and also delay the procurement process," Cranson said. Though it makes sense for contractors to go through a pre-qualification process for certain types of jobs, it does not make sense for more routine tasks, he said.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4. Staff writer Tresa Baldas contributed to this report.
Sun Jan 07, 2018 6:42 am
|Detroit Councilman Gabe Leland targeted in FBI investigation of towing titan Gaspar Fiore
Tresa Baldas and Katrease Stafford, Detroit Free Press Published 6:00 a.m. ET Jan. 8, 2018
Leland is being investigated for his ties to metro Detroit towing magnate Gasper Fiore.
When Detroit area towing magnate Gasper Fiore wanted to know what was going on in City Hall, he may not have had to reach out any further than his daughter's boyfriend.
For at least two years, Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland dated Fiore's daughter, Jennifer, a relationship that has landed the 35-year-old councilman in the middle of an ongoing public corruption investigation by the federal government.
During that time, according to FBI wiretap records, Leland appeared willing to keep the Fiore family updated with information that might help their towing businesses. And on at least four occasions, Leland voted in favor of city contracts and extensions that benefited the Fiores, as reported by Fox 2 News last summer.
Leland, who was re-elected to a second term on the council in November, denied any wrongdoing when contacted by the Free Press last week. He has not been charged with any crime.
"Anyone that questions my integrity as a result of any personal relationship is also mistaken," Leland said. "My personal relationships have never gotten in the way of my responsibilities as a councilman."
During his relationship with Jennifer Fiore, records and wiretap evidence shows, Leland did some things that raised red flags for the FBI, including:
He voted for at least four contract extensions or amendments worth $2 million that went to Fiore companies, as Fox 2 first reported last summer.
He allegedly passed along information to the Fiore family about a covert police corruption investigation involving multiple police officers who accepted bribes from body shops and towing companies.
He set up a meeting with Detroit Police Chief James Craig where he allegedly sought inside information about the towing investigation.
Leland on Friday characterized his relationship with Jennifer Fiore, who is an executive in her family's businesses, as " on again and off again" but said the pair are no longer together.
Gasper Fiore pleaded guilty to bribery last month in the ongoing corruption investigation, which has already ensnared more than a dozen area politicians, business owners and others.
Boulevard and Trumbull towing in Detroit in May 2017.Buy Photo
Boulevard and Trumbull towing in Detroit in May 2017. The company is owned by Gasper Fiore of Grosse Pointe Shores. (Photo: Kathleen Galligan, Detroit Free Press)
Craig, Leland meeting
According to Craig, Leland hoodwinked him in setting up the 2016 meeting, pretending it was to discuss community initiatives when really, Craig said, Leland wanted an inside scoop on a towing investigation.
"Certainly when he set up the meeting it was not about towing. That I know for certain -- because if he would have said 'I want to talk about towing,' I would have said no," Craig said in a Free Press interview last week.
"He got nothing from me about the towing investigation," said Craig. "I contacted the FBI immediately following that meeting because of my concern of what he was trying to find out."
The FBI declined comment.
Craig described the meeting as one that turned strange, fast. He said when Leland started asking about the towing investigation, he started pressing him to explain why he was asking about towing. Then, he said, Leland got nervous.
Craig said before Leland arrived, he made sure to have a third person in his office.
"I never felt comfortable with him, and that's why I had someone in the office," Craig recalled. "When Leland left, my EPU officer said, 'Wow. He's extremely nervous.' "
Craig said that at the time of the meeting, he didn't know that Leland was dating Fiore's daughter. He said he didn't learn of the relationship until a few days later, when he called his legal counsel, Celia Washington, who had a friendly relationship with the Fiores.
"I said, 'Why is Councilman Leland coming to me asking about towing?' And she said, 'Well, there's a dating relationship between Leland and the daughter,' " Craig recalled Washington saying. "I said, 'Wow.' That's when my antennas went up."
In a statement Friday to the Free Press, Leland said he doesn't "recall the whole conversation because it was a few years ago," but asserted it stemmed from a concern raised by a resident.
"I remember addressing a concern from a constituent regarding a potential noise violation they heard late at night from a body shop or tow yard in my district," Leland said in an email. "The constituent thought it was related to an investigation they heard in the news involving multiple police officers, for which I later learned DPD internal affairs had investigated. Perhaps that is why the Chief was uncomfortable."
Craig told the Free Press Saturday that when Leland asked to meet, it's possible the initial request may have indeed stemmed from him wanting to discuss a community complaint, but "when he set the meeting up, there was nothing about towing in that."
"Clearly I knew that based on how it came up that it seemed to me that was the real purpose of the visit, that's what it appeared to me," Craig said Saturday, adding that the 2016 meeting was the only instance Leland inquired about the investigation.
"I'm not making any suggestion that because he inquired about the investigation that he in any way was involved in criminality," Craig said. "I've never said that. I'm just saying that because of what he asked about, and clearly he was uncomfortable, I felt the need to notify the FBI."
But Leland said he was following up on a resident's concern, which is within his role as a councilman.
"As a member of the Detroit City Council, it is my job to follow up with any constituent concern brought to my attention," Leland wrote in an email. "It is my job to resolve issues affecting my constituents and help them resolve problems they may have with the city."
Washington is another target in the FBI probe. Last week, she pleaded guilty to accepting a $3,000 cash bribe from Fiore in exchange for her helping him get a better position on the city's towing rotation. She claims she never helped him, but took the money thinking it was a loan.
Dating and politics
Leland, who served in the state house before being elected to City Council in 2013, told the Free Press last week that he was unaware of the FBI probe. He stated that "most of my colleagues were aware that I was dating Jennifer" and said there was nothing improper about his votes.
"Any vote that I make on any issue is based on the recommendation of the Administration, Legislative Policy Division, Purchasing, and the Police Department. As I recall, all of the contracts, the extensions and amendments were non-controversial at the time, and fully vetted by the Police Department. I believe the votes at the council table were unanimous and later approved by the Financial Review Commission."
The city's charter states that council members are required to disclose any financial interest, direct or indirect, that "he or she or an immediate family member has in any contract or matter pending before city council." The disclosures are required to be made in writing via a sworn, notarized affidavit, according to the charter.
Since Leland wasn't married to Fiore, it's unclear if he technically violated the city's charter.
Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning, a former federal prosecutor who has closely followed public corruption cases in Metro Detroit, said Leland should have recused himself from the votes involving his girlfriend's companies.
"It might not be a crime, but it could well be an ethics violation," Henning said.
Henning said if Leland's relationship with Jennifer Fiore involved just a few casual dates, then abstaining from votes may not have been necessary.
"If it was a continuing relationship, then absolutely -- that's an even more apparent conflict of interest," Henning said. "If you have any indication that this is a company that is going to receive a benefit -- then absolutely you have to ensure that there is no conflict of interest."
He stressed: "The easiest way to handle that is to disclose it."
It is not known how many City Council members were aware of Leland's relationship with Jennifer Fiore. Most did not return calls or emails for comment.
Henning said when it comes to elected officials spending tax dollars, they have to make sure that there is no appearance of impropriety on their part.
"Even if it was a good contract and the best one available -- for public confidence purposes, you have to be able to make sure there is no question of impropriety," Henning said. "Elected officials are held to a much stricter standard. Even if it’s not written into the rules, this is the standard the public expects."
Henning added that Leland should have abstained from the votes "especially after what we saw a few years ago, with the former mayor."
Henning was referring to the corruption trial of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is serving 28 years in federal prison for — among other things — steering lucrative contracts to his contractor friend Bobby Ferguson, who received 21 years for corruption crimes.
Wire tapping nets evidence
In court documents, the FBI described Fiore as an aggressive businessman who "had a reputation for bending the rules, creating multiple companies in order to get around the (towing) rotation that is in place." The rotation list is supposed to divide the work among Detroit towers, many of whom complained that Fiore avoided the rules by creating companies in others' names and got a greater bulk of the work, the FBI says.
According to a now-sealed FBI document, Fiore talked with his family members about the rotation list, how to get on it, and was obsessed with knowing all the inside details about the towing industry, who was getting what, and who was being investigated.
Leland, the FBI wrote, was one of his helpers who kept him in the loop.
As an agent wrote in one document, "it appears that Chief Craig briefed Gabe Leland about the towing case, and Leland has briefed the Fiore family about it."
Specifically, wiretap evidence shows that the Fiore family learned about the so-called "Mars Investigation" from Leland. Mars is a Detroit towing company.
Wiretap evidence also captured Washington telling Gasper Fiore in a conversation: "So ... I guess Gabe went to talk to Chief (Craig) . .. Gabe said he mentioned about the towing and the chief said he wasn't gonna do nothing with it right now, and so there's some stuff going on."
FBI agent Bob Beeckman wrote in the affidavit: "This is a reference to the covert police corruption investigation, of which Fiore is now aware."
The Free Press asked Leland additional questions via email, including whether Fiore at any point gave him any money or if he's had any conversations with the FBI since it was revealed he had been listed as a target. Leland did not respond.
The majority of City Council members did not return calls or emails seeking comment about Leland voting on the contracts or the FBI investigation. A spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan declined to comment on the matter as well.
Councilman Scott Benson declined to comment, stating only: “... I appreciate that this subject is of great media interest right now. However, I have no comment on this issue at present, and continue to support all of my colleagues and look forward to another four years working with Councilman Leland on behalf of the citizens of Detroit."
Council President Brenda Jones also declined to comment, saying: "Until I see something legal on it, it’s hearsay. The FBI has not approached me, or asked me any questions about Gabe Leland."
Regarding Leland's votes on Fiore business deals, Jones said she can't comment on whether he should have abstained because she doesn't know if he talked to the law department first, or vetted his decision. As for whether his votes raise ethical concerns, she said that's not her call to make.
" All of my colleagues are good colleagues," Jones said.
Detroit's Inspector General office, which investigates fraud and corruption allegations, said it does not have any open inquiries into Leland and no cases have been filed.
The office was established in 2012 as an independent agency, with subpoena powers and the ability to investigate all Detroit public servants -- including City Council members, the city clerk and mayor, as well as contractors, subcontractors, licensees and applicants for certification.
"Generally, when there are inquiries or cases being held by the FBI, we leave it to the FBI," said Deputy Inspector General Kamau Marable, Detroit's. "...Not that it doesn’t rise to that level but we have not made an inquiry. We would not duplicate any investigation."
Contact Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas
Contact Katrease Stafford: email@example.com or 313-223-4759.
Mon Jan 08, 2018 10:11 am
|Napoleon: I’m not a target in fed probe
The Detroit News Published 10:35 p.m. ET Jan. 8, 2018 | Updated 8:18 a.m. ET Jan. 9, 2018
Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon is pushing back over the idea that he has drawn federal scrutiny in a public corruption probe, saying Monday night that he’s received assurances from the federal government that he’s not a target.
Napoleon’s name, along with other Metro Detroit public officials and politicians, appeared in records filed in federal court on a list of “target subjects” in a corruption probe that has spread from Macomb County to Wayne County and Detroit. The federal wiretap documents were reported by The Detroit News in December.
"I have been in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and I have been assured that I am not the target or subject of any federal corruption investigation,” Napoleon said in a statement Monday night sent by his campaign communications director, Tiffani C. Jackson.
“Any further mention, suggestion, innuendo, association or assertion, etc., of my name connected to such investigation by the media, would be totally false."
The FBI was investigating crimes in connection with Detroit towing mogul Gasper Fiore or others. The “target subjects” document was revealed in court records obtained by The News.
Napoleon, a former Detroit police chief and sheriff since 2009, said in December that he was unaware he had been named in the filing, which had been temporarily unsealed in federal court. Of the public officials listed, only former Detroit deputy police chief Celia Washington has been charged with a crime in connection with the investigation.
The ongoing corruption investigation has led to 13 convictions so far. The court filings were temporarily unsealed days after Fiore struck a plea deal with prosecutors, admitting he bribed former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Napoleon’s statement.
Tue Jan 09, 2018 12:48 pm
|Rizzo tried to tamper with witness, feds say
Robert Snell, The Detroit News Published 6:20 p.m. ET Jan. 9, 2018 | Updated 10:22 a.m. ET Jan. 10, 2018
Detroit — Federal prosecutors want to haul trash titan Chuck Rizzo to prison immediately, saying he tried to tamper with a government witness during a chance encounter at a Detroit casino Christmas party.
A federal court filing late Tuesday chronicles an odd series of events that brought together a key figure in the Macomb County corruption scandal and a witness who helped the FBI secure Rizzo’s conviction.
The Dec. 16 encounter at MGM Grand Casino happened while Rizzo was free on bond and awaiting a March 13 sentencing that could send him to prison for 10 years. Rizzo, 47, of Bloomfield Hills pleaded guilty in November, admitting he bribed Macomb County politicians and stole money from his trash-hauling company while building Rizzo Environmental Services into a regional powerhouse.
Rizzo owns another company that was holding a Christmas party at the casino Dec. 16. That’s the same night a key government witness and his wife arrived at the casino to eat dinner and watch a sporting event.
The night ended with Rizzo violating bond conditions by contacting the witness at AXIS Lounge, prosecutors allege.
“Rizzo attempted to intimidate, retaliate against, and tamper with a witness for the government, a witness whose statements are likely to figure in heavily at the defendant’s impending sentencing,” federal prosecutors wrote in a filing Tuesday.
Rizzo’s lawyer could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
The filing marked a new breakdown between the government and the once-powerful CEO of Rizzo Environmental Services.
The court filing describes a tumultuous legal odyssey for the former trash company executive, who went from star witness for the FBI to a target after he stopped cooperating with investigators, fired his high-powered lawyer and got indicted in May.
Prosecutors want U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland to revoke Rizzo’s bond. The judge has set an 11 a.m. hearing Thursday in Port Huron that could end with Rizzo in prison.
The witness referenced in the government filing is not identified. But prosecutors said “Witness A” arrived at the casino Dec. 16 to watch a sports event and eat dinner at TAP restaurant.
The witness was on a list of people Rizzo was barred from contacting while free on bond, according to the government.
Coincidentally, one of Rizzo’s companies was holding a Christmas party at the casino and the witness ran into an acquaintance who worked for the firm.
The witness and his wife left TAP and headed to AXIS Lounge inside the casino to avoid running into Rizzo or his father, Charles Rizzo, who also has pleaded guilty for his role in the corruption scandal.
That’s when the witness got a text message from Charles Rizzo. “I heard (you’re) here at MGM, I would love to say hi,” the text read. “Let me know where you’re at.”
The witness went to the bathroom and returned to AXIS, expecting to see Charles Rizzo.
Instead, an angry Chuck Rizzo was there, prosecutors said.
“Chuck Rizzo began by berating Witness A, stating that it was Witness A’s fault that Rizzo was going to jail for as long as he was. Rizzo then chastised Witness A for telling federal authorities that their theft scheme from (Rizzo Environmental Services) started in 2014, which put the total of the stolen money over $500,000.”
The filing provides new details about the roots of the Rizzo investigation.
FBI agents approached Rizzo in January 2016 following a lengthy corruption investigation.
Rizzo agreed to cooperate and stop committing crimes, specifically to stop scheming with others, including the witness, to embezzle from the trash company, according to the filing.
By November 2016, Rizzo had stopped cooperating. Meanwhile, the witness told investigators that Rizzo had continued to steal money while cooperating with the government, according to the filing.
“The information provided by Witness A was crucial to the government in discovering Rizzo’s criminal conduct while he purported to be cooperating with the government,” prosecutors wrote.
In early 2016, Rizzo told the witness not to discuss the theft scheme over the telephone, according to the government.
“This was an apparent effort by Rizzo to obstruct justice by seeking to prevent the government from learning about the continuation of the theft scheme over consensually monitored telephone calls while Rizzo’s cooperation with the government was ongoing,” prosecutors wrote. “In addition, the reopened investigation of Rizzo revealed multiple additional theft schemes perpetrated by Rizzo and others prior to Rizzo’s cooperation.”
Rizzo was indicted in May and released on bond after agreeing not to contact certain people, including the witness.
“Can you agree to those conditions?” U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Patti asked Rizzo.
“Yes, your honor,” Rizzo said.
“Okay, and you will promise me that you will obey them?” the judge asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Rizzo said.
He broke that promise within months, prosecutors said.
After running into the witness at MGM Grand Casino last month, Rizzo tried to get the witness to lie about cash generated by the embezzlement — a ploy designed to get a more lenient sentence, according to the filing.
The witness refused and talked to FBI agents after the casino encounter.
Rizzo also said the witness needed to meet with the trash titan’s lawyers, presumably to sign an affidavit that could help Rizzo win a lenient sentence, according to the filing.
“Witness A had previously declined repeated offers to meet with Rizzo’s attorneys because he did not feel comfortable doing so,” prosecutors wrote.
FBI agents interviewed the witness Jan. 3 and the government reported Rizzo’s bond violation the same day.
Prosecutors said Rizzo likely violated a federal law making it a felony to try to intimidate or tamper with witnesses, according to the filing.
Prosecutors called the witness key to helping uncover Rizzo’s embezzlement at a time when he claimed to have stopped all criminal activity.
“Rizzo is well aware that the government’s discovery of criminal conduct during his cooperation played a role in significantly increasing the prison time that Rizzo now faces at sentencing,” prosecutors wrote. “... Rizzo obviously blames Witness A for the longer prison sentence that Rizzo now faces.”
Rizzo cannot be trusted to comply with bond conditions, the prosecutors wrote.
“The government is concerned that Rizzo will seek to contact, either directly or indirectly, additional witnesses in a desperate attempt to reduce his sentencing exposure,” prosecutors wrote.
The incident with the witness could lead to a longer prison sentence for Rizzo.
Under terms of his plea deal, prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence of about six years if Rizzo provided significant help to the government.
Now, prosecutors could ask the judge to enhance the prison sentence, arguing Rizzo tried to obstruct justice, said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor.
An obstruction enhancement could bring another 18 months in prison, he said.
“If they can yank his bail, have him thrown in prison now and then seek that enhancement, they would be coming down pretty hard on him,” Henning said. “He was truly rolling the dice and probably should not have gone to the casino that night.”
Wed Jan 10, 2018 5:24 pm
|Rizzo remains free as team portrays witness as a drunk
Robert Snell, The Detroit News Published 7:42 a.m. ET Jan. 11, 2018
Port Huron — Trash mogul Chuck Rizzo remained free on bond Thursday after a federal judge postponed deciding whether a central figure in the Macomb County corruption scandal tried to tamper with a government witness.
U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland wants to hear testimony from Rizzo’s bag man, Quintin Ramanauskas, who was unmasked Thursday as the witness involved in a chance encounter last month with Rizzo at a Detroit casino Christmas party that threatens to deepen the trash mogul’s legal problems.
Ramanauskas, 54, of Shelby Township is among 19 people charged in the widening corruption scandal that started in Macomb County and spread to Detroit. He is awaiting a prison sentence after striking a plea deal with prosecutors in July, admitting he helped Rizzo bribe public officials to secure or maintain multimillion dollar garbage-hauling contracts for Rizzo Environmental Services.
During a hearing Thursday, Rizzo’s lawyer portrayed Ramanauskas as a corrupt alcoholic who appeared drunk during the casino encounter and who has incentive to lie about whether Rizzo tried to intimidate and influence him. Ramanauskas is cooperating with the FBI and helped the government secure a conviction against Rizzo, a fact prosecutors said made the trash mogul berate Ramanauskas at the casino.
“The question is: who do you believe?” Rizzo lawyer David Debold asked the judge.
Prosecutors want Rizzo jailed immediately for violating bond conditions by meeting with Ramanauskas at MGM Grand Casino last month. Rizzo is free on bond after pleading guilty for his role in the scandal and is barred from having any contact with a list of witnesses that includes Ramanauskas.
Rizzo met with Ramanauskas after receiving assurances from one of his defense lawyers that a meeting would not violate bond conditions and endanger his freedom, Debold said.
It is the latest legal problem for Rizzo, who went from star witness for the FBI to a target after he stopped cooperating with investigators, fired his high-powered lawyer and got indicted in May.
“Here, we have a repeat obstructor of justice who was given opportunity after opportunity and each time decided not to keep his promise to the FBI and the court,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta told the judge.
The Dec. 16 encounter at MGM Grand Casino happened while Rizzo was free on bond and awaiting a March 13 sentencing that could send him to prison for 10 years. Rizzo pleaded guilty in November, admitting he bribed Macomb County politicians and stole money from the private-equity company that owned most of his trash-hauling company while building Rizzo Environmental Services into a regional powerhouse.
Rizzo denied trying to intimidate and tamper with a government witness and reminded federal prosecutors he lived a lie while working undercover to help convict politicians in the Macomb County public corruption scandal.
Rizzo responded late Wednesday to the government’s request to revoke his bond and send him to prison immediately while awaiting a possible 10-year federal prison sentence in March for his role in the corruption scandal.
Ramanauskas, referred to in court filings as “Witness A,” is unreliable and was drinking alcohol heavily during the encounter Dec. 16 at MGM Grand Casino, Debold said. Ramanauskas ordered three rounds of drinks during two meetings with Rizzo at the casino restaurant and earlier that afternoon his wife posted Facebook photos indicating they were drinking shots at another Detroit location, the lawyer said.
“Just in the limited amount of time counsel for Mr. Rizzo has had to look into those allegations, they are not credible,” Rizzo’s lawyers wrote in a court filing. “Among other things, Witness A lied about whether he had been drinking that night — even though he spent the evening in at least two bars — and he violated his own bond conditions because he used alcohol excessively.”
FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman admitted Thursday he did not know how many drinks Ramanauskas consumed on Dec. 16. Ramanauskas can drink alcohol while free on bond, but not excessively, the agent testified.
The hearing happened two days after federal prosecutors asked Cleland to revoke Rizzo’s bond. Prosecutors chronicled an odd series of events that brought together a key figure in the Macomb County corruption scandal and a witness who helped the FBI secure Rizzo’s conviction.
Rizzo and his father own a trucking company that was holding a Christmas party at the casino Dec. 16. That’s the same night Ramanauskas and his wife arrived at the casino to eat dinner and watch a football game.
The night ended with Rizzo violating bond conditions by contacting Ramanauskas at AXIS Lounge, prosecutors allege.
“Rizzo attempted to intimidate, retaliate against, and tamper with a witness for the government, a witness whose statements are likely to figure in heavily at the defendant’s impending sentencing,” federal prosecutors wrote in a filing Tuesday.
Not true, Rizzo’s lawyers wrote late Wednesday.
Rizzo asked Ramanauskas to agree to be interviewed by the trash mogul’s lawyer ahead of the March sentencing, according to the filing.
Rizzo did not violate bond conditions by contacting Ramanauskas, his lawyers argued.
The restriction barred Rizzo from contacting witnesses during the investigation and prosecution, his lawyers argued. Since Rizzo pleaded guilty in November, the investigation and prosecution phase was over, according to the lawyers.
“The person with whom Mr. Rizzo spoke at the MGM Grand thus was not a witness in the investigation or prosecution,” the lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors and the judge disagreed. Cleland said the prosecution was ongoing.
The judge Thursday remarked on the coincidence of what has been described as a chance encounter between Rizzo and Ramanauskas at the Detroit casino.
“A series of remarkable coincidences, it would seem,” Cleland said.
In the Wednesday court filing, Rizzo’s new lawyers reminded prosecutors that the trash mogul’s initial cooperation was “extensive and extraordinary.”
“Between January and October 2016 (when the government’s investigation became public), Mr. Rizzo made consensual phone calls, wore wires during undercover meetings with corrupt politicians, made introductions so that undercover FBI agents could further infiltrate the corruption, and made himself available on demand to the FBI — for hours on end,” Rizzo’s lawyers wrote. “The government well knew that Mr. Rizzo had been involved in embezzling money from his employer, and the government also knew that the genesis of that conduct was an ill-advised effort by Mr. Rizzo to reimburse himself for using his own money to fund political action committees, as requested by his employer.”
Rizzo’s undercover cooperation created an unusual predicament, his lawyers wrote.
“The government needed Mr. Rizzo to live a lie so as to keep his cover from being blown,” Rizzo’s lawyers wrote. “He could not tell anyone about his months as an undercover cooperator — not even his wife. He also needed to find a way to stop the embezzlement in which Witness A and others had participated without telling them why it must stop. He wasn’t perfect in carrying that out, but he did protect his cover and managed to pay back all that he had taken.”
Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:00 pm
|15th man cuts deal in Macomb County corruption case after feds bug his phone
Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press Published 8:17 p.m. ET Jan. 11, 2018
The federal government Thursday secured its 15th guilty plea in a wide-sweeping corruption probe that started in Macomb County, stretched into Detroit and Lansing and took down a garbage empire.
The latest defendant to cut a deal is Sterling Heights businessman Robert Maechtle, a manager at Motor City Electric whose phone was tapped by the FBI three years ago, according to sealed court records obtained by the Free Press. He pleaded guilty to bribery Thursday, admitting he handed off a $2,000 bribe to a Washington Township official in 2014 in order to secure a contract for his company.
A month after Maechtle paid the bribe, the FBI secured a wiretap on his cell phone, according to court records, though another three years would pass before Maechtle was charged.
The bribed official was the late Steven Hohensee, the superintendent of public works for the township who was also charged, but died of natural causes amid the probe.
Maechtle faces 18-24 months in prison under the terms of his plea deal.
According to his plea agreement, Maechtle agreed with at least two other people, including engineers Paulin Modi and James Pistilli, to pay a $2,000 bribe to Hohensee to secure the contract. The bribe was paid on Oct. 20, 2014, at a Shelby Township restaurant, where Maechtle "handed Hohensee an envelope containing $2,000 in new $100 bills," the plea deal reads.
Modi and Pistilli were also charged and have cut deals. They are among 19 people charged so far in a probe that took down the Rizzo garbage company and landed garbage tycoon Chuck Rizzo Jr. and towing titan Gasper Fiore in federal court.
Both Rizzo and Fiore were charged with paying bribes to win contracts. Both have cut deals and are awaiting sentencing.
Tresa Baldas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas.
Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:06 pm
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