(WXYZ) — An obscene abuse of power: that’s how federal prosecutors describe an alleged extortion scheme, committed over two decades by Macomb County’s former Public Works Commissioner.
Anthony Marrocco is now facing decades behind bars.
The federal grand jury indictment that was unsealed Wednesday charges the 71-year-old from Ray Township with conspiracy to commit extortion, 2 counts of extortion, and 1 count of attempted extortion.
The indictment alleges the extortion scheme lasted for more than 2 decades, from 1994 until 2016. The feds say Marrocco directed his Department of Public Works underling, Dino Bucci, and others at the county to pressure builders and contractors into buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tickets to Marrocco’s political fundraisers.
The feds allege Marrocco would inflict economic punishment on those who did not purchase those fundraiser tickets by holding up building permits and delaying payments to vendors.
“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,” said Matthew Schneider, U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
“Today is not a surprise for many of us here, especially the contractors, developers, public officials – many were afraid of him, because he would run people against them. Or [he] wouldn’t give people permits to do some of the building for developments they had. And with that being said, no longer are they afraid,” said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.
Hackel also praised 7 Action News reporter Jim Kiertzner for helping to expose Marrocco during the last two years, with his reporting on the Macomb County corruption probe.
“There’s no question about it – it was integral, and I say that for this reason: because people started hearing some of the bad stories, they started hearing there was a problem with Mr. Marrocco and Mr. Bucci, and more and more people started coming forward with information,” said Hackel.
The indictment alleges that Marrocco used some of the money he extorted from the victims to pay for things like air travel, fancy dinners, condo association charges, spa visits, and yacht club charges.
"This was typical politics, not extortion. Ask any of our other local politicians if: (a) they have fundraisers; and (b) they expect people to contribute. No one was forced to do anything. As in any other political campaign, some contributed and some didn't. End of story. All the rest of it is just noise. As Gladys Knight said in Heard it Through the Grapevine, 'believe half of what you see and none of what you hear,’” said Steve Fishman, Marrocco’s attorney, in a statement.
If he’s convicted, Anthony Marrocco faces up to 20 years in prison for each charge.