Macomb Township contractor accepts plea deal

By: Joshua Gordon, | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published October 11, 2017

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — A local contractor has accepted a plea agreement and admitted to paying more than $90,000 in kickbacks to a Macomb Township elected official.

Christopher Sorrentino, 51, of Macomb Township, filed the plea agreement Oct. 3 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit. The plea comes about a month after charges were filed against Sorrentino for structuring financial transactions to avoid currency reporting requirements in cashing checks to pay the kickbacks.

The charges filed in September were vague on the circumstances surrounding the kickbacks paid to the unnamed township official, but Sorrentino provided the court with more information in the guilty plea.

In August 2014, Sorrentino’s business was asked to provide a proposal to repave the Macomb Township Hall parking lot. Sorrentino’s bid came in at $254,500.

Two weeks later, the unnamed official told Sorrentino to immediately come to the parking lot to start work on the job, but when he arrived, another company was already performing the work.

“Other than taking some photographs of the work, the defendant and his company subsequently did none of the work removing the old asphalt parking lot and replacing it with a new concrete parking lot,” according to the plea deal.

After the work was completed by the other company, Sorrentino received a check for his full bid price and was instructed by the elected official to pay $181,055 to the company that did the work and give the remaining money, around $73,000, back to the official in cash.

Sorrentino objected to not getting any portion of the money but having to pay taxes on the funds, at which time he said the elected official agreed to him keeping $7,000 to pay taxes and the official would direct future township work to Sorrentino’s company.

On Nov. 5, 2014, Sorrentino wrote and cashed seven checks all under $10,000 in the total amount of $66,024. According to the Bank Secrecy Act, banks only have to report transactions of $10,000 or more on any given day, and Sorrentino’s checks did not meet that requirement.

That makes the transactions in violation of Title 31, United States Code, Section 5234, according to the filing. Sorrentino’s sentencing will come in February, at which time the plea provides a guideline of between 10 and 16 months to be served in prison.

After cashing the checks, Sorrentino delivered the total amount to the Macomb Township official at the building housing the Macomb County Department of Public Works in Clinton Township.

The process repeated itself in 2015, when Sorrentino’s company was told to repave the Macomb Township fire station’s parking lot, but another company again did the work.

Sorrentino received another check, this time in the amount of $264,703, and was told by the elected official to pay the company that did the work, keep some for taxes and give the rest to the official, which amounted in at least $30,000.

According to the plea, Sorrentino made no money in the end and instead lost money because of what he had to pay in taxes for the two checks.

“The plea was relatively straight forward in that he was approached, thought he was doing a legitimate job, and everything got pulled out from underneath him,” said Arthur Weiss, Sorrentino’s attorney.

Macomb Township Supervisor Janet Dunn said when the charges were filed she had no knowledge of the activity and would look to have an internal review completed.

Sorrentino’s case is part of the federal government’s wide-ranging corruption investigation centered in Macomb County coming on the heels of Charles B. “Chuck” Rizzo, the former CEO of garbage hauler Rizzo Environmental Services, being indicted in May on several counts of bribery and fraud.

Former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas was arrested by the FBI on bribery charges last fall in relation to the Rizzo scandal after allegedly accepting $7,500 from Rizzo in exchange for obtaining a contract with the township. Freitas pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery charges as part of a plea agreement in June.

The Macomb Township Board of Trustees approved Sept. 13 to settle another lawsuit involving an area contractor. Mount Clemens-based contractor Gianna Investments filed a lawsuit against the township and Trustee Dino Bucci in 2016, alleging Bucci requested a kickback for his help in securing a refund for permit fees paid by Gianna on work that was eventually not done by them.

The township agreed to refund the permit fees in the amount of nearly $152,000, along with more than $550 in interest.

Bucci retired from his position as operational services manager with the Macomb County Public Works office a few months after the Gianna lawsuit was filed.