Former Trustee Freitas sentenced to 20 months in prison for bribery

By: Joshua Gordon | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published August 8, 2018

 Former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison was accepting a bribe from Rizzo Environmental Services in securing a contract with the township for waste hauling services.

Former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison was accepting a bribe from Rizzo Environmental Services in securing a contract with the township for waste hauling services.

File photo by Thomas Franz

PORT HURON/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison on July 31 after pleading guilty to taking bribes in his position with the township.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland sentenced Freitas in Port Huron more than 21 months after Freitas was first arrested on the charges in October 2016. Along with the 20-month prison sentence, Freitas, 44, will also have a two-year supervised release.

Freitas pled guilty to a five-year bribery charge last summer and, according to court documents, cooperated with the FBI following his arrest. Because of his cooperation, the prosecution recommended in May that Freitas get a 33-percent reduction of his 30-month sentencing guideline.

Freitas was elected as a Macomb Township trustee in November 2012, and in 2015 helped Rizzo Environmental Services secure a waste hauling contract with the township for a $7,500 bribe. A second bribe of $35,000 was based around Freitas getting the trash bill put on the township’s water bill to save Rizzo money.

In June 2014, Freitas was hired as a project manager for Rizzo Property Management, a subsidiary of RES. The FBI used wiretaps to confirm that Freitas did assist Rizzo in acquiring the township’s contract by sharing inside information about the bid process.

Freitas abstained from the vote to award the contract to Rizzo, but it still passed unanimously. The contract was worth $16 million in gross revenue.

In addition to the $7,500 bribe for getting Rizzo the contract, court documents also show that Freitas was awarded a pay raise with Rizzo and a one-time bonus of $35,000 for getting the trash bill on the water bill.

Before the sentencing, Freitas’ attorney, Daniel Garon, wrote in a memorandum that the $7,500 was in actuality a loan that Freitas did pay back. Garon also pointed out that the water bill scheme never came to fruition.

“While (Freitas) accepts and recognizes his culpability in the revelation of bid information in exchange for the loan, it is important to point out to this court that said loan was, in fact, repaid,” Garon wrote in the filing.

In the same memo, Garon states that Freitas was groomed as a “freshman board member” by RES CEO Chuck Rizzo and fellow Trustee Dino Bucci into the “hopefully non-existent ways of politics in Macomb County.” Garon continued that Freitas was groomed to be used by the likes of Rizzo and Bucci.

The same memo contained letters of support for Freitas, including a letter from Trustee Nancy Nevers. Residents questioned the letter at a recent board meeting, but Nevers said she did not regret sending the letter as she believed Freitas was truly penitent and she believes in forgiveness.

Freitas was defeated in the 2016 primary election by Tim Bussineau, who went on to win the trustee seat in the November 2016 election.

Bucci has since been indicted on 18 criminal charges from a nine-year period that allegedly involved kickbacks and embezzlement in both his position as a Macomb Township trustee and with the Macomb County Department of Public Works. Bucci has not attended a Macomb Township Board of Trustees meeting since being indicted.

Bucci is due back in U.S. District Court in September. Bucci and Freitas were part of a county-wide probe by the FBI that has led to 20 individuals being charged. This past April, Chuck Rizzo was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison.