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 Former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds is remanded by U.S. Marshals and taken to St. Clair County Jail June 21 after being found guilty of 14 bribery and conspiracy charges in U.S. District Court in Port Huron.

Former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds is remanded by U.S. Marshals and taken to St. Clair County Jail June 21 after being found guilty of 14 bribery and conspiracy charges in U.S. District Court in Port Huron.

Photo by Nick Mordowanec


‘Untouchable’ Reynolds guilty of 14 bribery, conspiracy charges

Prosecution paints former trustee as ‘face of public corruption’

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published June 25, 2018

 Reynolds’ attorney, Stephen Rabaut, stands outside the courthouse while the jury deliberates its verdict.

Reynolds’ attorney, Stephen Rabaut, stands outside the courthouse while the jury deliberates its verdict.

Photo by Nick Mordowanec

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PORT HURON — On June 21, a U.S. District Court jury found former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds guilty of 10 counts of bribery and four counts of conspiracy.

Reynolds, 51, who was originally arrested in October 2016 in what was a multifaceted effort by the FBI to unveil a Macomb County public corruption scheme, originally declined a 10-year plea deal. Now, sentencing guidelines dictate that he could face between 19 and 24 years behind bars.

District Judge Robert Cleland denied Reynolds’ re-entry into society, instead remanding him to U.S. Marshals and sending him to St. Clair County Jail. A preliminary sentencing date is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 25.

 

Final words
During his closing statement, while a picture of Reynolds adorned the court’s TV screen, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta looked at the jury and said, “On your screen is the face of public corruption.”

During the six-day trial, Bullotta and fellow Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey outlined numerous relationships Reynolds had with business magnates, contractors and Macomb County public officials. Bullotta said Reynolds was “lining his pockets with $100 bills” for years, calling the evidence against him “staggering.”

The four conspiracy charges were in relation to Clinton Township’s trash contract, which led to an exchange of tens of thousands of dollars; the township’s towing contract; the township’s engineering contract with Giffels Webster; and communications with former New Haven Trustee Brett Harris.

The prosecution maintained that bribery involves taking something of value, with a crime being committed whether asked for or given something. As was customary through the trial, the prosecution relied heavily on wiretapped phone calls and secret video footage of Reynolds communicating with others — many of whom were witnesses during the trial in Port Huron.

Nearly every one of the witnesses declared under oath that they were testifying in an effort to get sentence leniency in relation to already-made guilty pleas.

Stephen Rabaut, who represented Reynolds and did not comment before, during or after the trial, made the case that three of Reynolds’ four conspiracy-related charges actually centered on former trash hauler CEO Chuck Rizzo, with the other being the engineering contract.

“Chuck Rizzo is nothing better than a thief. … In my opinion, he’s manipulating the whole matter,” Rabaut told the jury during his closing statement.

Closing statements took about 85 minutes. The final jury, composed of seven women and five men, took a little more than an hour to make its decision.

Reynolds was stone-faced as the jury’s decision was announced. His wife, Melissa, gasped when Cleland remanded Reynolds, rather than let him out on bond.

 

An unraveling of trust
On June 14, FBI Agent Robert Beeckman — who took the stand on three separate occasions — said the county corruption probe was code-named “Operation Golden Ring” and began in 2014.

The investigation included reviewing bank records and using surveillance, wiretaps and consensual recordings to collect evidence. Wiretaps require probable cause.

The focus on Reynolds, who was first elected as a township trustee in 2004 and was re-elected in 2008 and in 2012, began in 2015. It was related to, among other things, a trash contract with the former Rizzo Environmental Services and a township towing contract in relation to “towing titan” Gasper Fiore, who subsequently pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Beeckman said the FBI’s ultimate target of the investigation was Rizzo.

Beeckman said the Reynolds wiretap started July 17, 2015, in which he discussed the ongoing process of an expensive divorce with his ex-wife, Tammy. That led to Reynolds utilizing the services of Rizzo’s corporate attorneys, including Jay Schwartz, as a means to settle the marital dispute.

Beeckman said thousands of dollars’ worth of attorney-client hours were not billed, in the range of approximately $44,000 to $56,000. It was estimated that Schwartz charged $275 per hour at the time, while another attorney who worked with him charged $195 per hour, Beeckman stated.

Reynolds’ former best friend, Angelo Selva, also testified June 14.

In a July 23, 2015, wiretapped conversation, Reynolds called Selva, of Macomb Township, to discuss his dissatisfaction with his divorce attorney, and he threatened to call Rizzo to take care of it. Selva later testified that he and Reynolds were best friends. The prosecutors made the case that the pro bono attorney work was in exchange for the securing of the Clinton Township trash contract.

In that call, Reynolds told Selva that Tammy was ruining his reputation and could cost him an election victory, alluding to his eventual run for Clinton Township supervisor in 2016. The former trustee also mentioned trying to get other township board members to vote in favor of the contract.

“She’s cocky and real confident,” Reynolds told Selva, about Tammy.

Wiretaps — including multiple calls to Selva, Rizzo and Schwartz — and text message conversations were commonplace during that stretch of time in July 2015. Reynolds, at one point, said he was “living in f------ crazy land” in terms of trying to complete the divorce, secure payments for court costs from Rizzo and company, and assure that the township board approved a 10-year extension with Rizzo Environmental Services.

In August 2015, texts between Reynolds and Rizzo alluded to “big cans,” with Beeckman clarifying that the phrase was in relation to large trash carts that would be part of the renewed contract.

In one call between Reynolds and Selva in late summer 2015, in which Reynolds expressed worry that Rizzo was trying to distance himself from the monetary situation, Selva said Rizzo knew the ramifications of their relationship.

“I think (Rizzo’s) really concerned about getting caught,” Selva told Reynolds of what he perceived as Rizzo’s intentions. “He wants to be 100 percent sure you can’t trace (the money).”

In calls to people like Schwartz and former right-hand man Quintin Ramanauskas, Rizzo regularly referred to Reynolds as a “shakedown artist,” mentioning how annoyed he was with his frequent calls, texts and voicemails.

Reynolds once told Selva, “Whenever (Rizzo) needs me, I’m always there for him.”

The approximate $18 million trash contract extension was eventually approved Feb. 22, 2016, by a 7-0 unanimous Board of Trustees vote. In a wiretapped call to Rizzo just hours before the vote occurred, Reynolds asked Rizzo whether he wanted the contract to pass that evening or whether he should provide a two-week postponement by voting “no.”

 

A best friend’s account
Selva said he met Reynolds when their kids were in fourth grade at Ottawa Elementary School in Clinton Township. 

The two quickly developed a positive rapport that included personal nicknames, with Selva calling Reynolds “white bear” and Reynolds calling him “brown bear.” Selva was the best man at Reynolds’ 2016 wedding to Melissa.

In 2017, Selva was convicted of misprision of a felony in relation to a promissory note for Reynolds, who was looking to secure between $3,000 and $5,000 for a court-ordered psychiatric exam for his former wife, Tammy. Selva pleaded guilty in June 2017, due to producing a false document. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.

“Through our relationship, (Reynolds) was always asking advice from me,” said Selva, who accused Reynolds of “manipulating” him to run for the Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Education in 2014.

For about a 2 1/2-year period, Selva also served as principal of Universal Training Center in Madison Heights, which promoted language learning and advertised itself as an alternative high school. It was owned and operated by Reynolds.

Selva told the court that Reynolds expected his divorce settlement to cost between $70,000 and $80,000.

“At the time, I didn’t even flinch,” Selva said. “It was just a part of Dean’s world. That’s how he does business. … He was Chuck Rizzo’s man.”

Selva said money was spent “quickly and lavishly” by Reynolds, telling a story of Reynolds going on a spending spree during a Disney World vacation with his family. When Reynolds started to run out of money, he began to get “very angry.”

After Schwartz reportedly tried to distance himself from Reynolds, Selva helped Reynolds with the promissory note document. In a wiretap played for the court, Reynolds got the go-ahead from a friend of his family, Ray Bianchi, to use his name as a cover for where money was coming from for the psych exam.

Selva said it wasn’t until after Reynolds was charged that Reynolds began to refer to the bribe as a “loan.”

“What really disturbed me is that everything that we’ve been through, to me, of all people, to look me in the eye that he could tell me he was innocent and they were loans,” Selva said. “I was stunned. ... I know the truth. I helped him with it.”

Things began to unravel after the trash contract was approved, Selva said, with Reynolds involving himself with Fiore and the securement of a possible township towing contract. Selva said Reynolds became “suspicious” of one of Rizzo’s men, “Marco,” who hailed from the Chicago area, thinking he was an undercover FBI agent. He was right.

“At this point, I was starting to slowly disengage from Dean,” Selva said.

When Reynolds was arrested Oct. 13, 2016, Selva showed up at Reynolds’ home. Reynolds showed Selva the FBI complaint, stating his innocence. Then he asked Selva to destroy all related evidence to the promissory note.

During his closing rebuttal, Bullotta referenced a Selva quote used in the midst of the trial: “(Reynolds) always thought he was untouchable.”

 

Widespread dishonesty
The prosecution used the witness testimony of already-guilty individuals, FBI surveillance via wiretaps and video footage, and bank records to establish Reynolds’ guilt, amounting to approximately more than $150,000 in total bribes in relation to the four conspiracies — including more than $75,000 in cash and about $50,000 in free legal services.

Witnesses like Ramanauskas helped Rizzo deliver envelopes full of cash for Reynolds to pick up at the former Rizzo Environmental Services facility on Elmridge Drive in Sterling Heights.

FBI Special Agent Eric Paholsky conducted cyber checks on Reynolds. He mentioned that he followed Reynolds’ black Ram one afternoon, which led to the two individuals standing mere feet apart in First State Bank on Hayes Road in Clinton Township. It was later determined that Reynolds cashed another “loan” for more than $2,500.

Current Clinton Township Public Services Assistant Superintendent Brian Girard said under oath that Reynolds called him an “extraordinary” number of times in relation to securing an extension to the formerly existing Rizzo trash contract — so much so that Girard began to lie and tell Reynolds he was on vacation so he would leave him alone.

Paulin “Paul” Modi, who came from India and worked his way up as an engineer to become one of 12 managing partners for Washington Township-based engineering firm Giffels Webster, said he attended a Detroit Tigers game with Reynolds, Clinton Township Planning Director Carlo Santia, a couple other officials and Giffels Webster employees in 2009.

At the game, Reynolds said nobody liked the township’s old engineering firm, and that if Modi gave him money, then Giffels Webster could be primed to take over as the primary Clinton Township engineering firm.

In 2009, Modi, who recently pleaded guilty to one count of bribery, gave Reynolds $8,000, and Giffels Webster secured the contract in 2010. Later, when the financials of a 2012 relief sewer project were poorly estimated, township officials reportedly had second thoughts about Giffels Webster. Reynolds told Modi, “I need that $7,000 or I can’t help you.”

The $7,000 was given by Modi to Reynolds, who was joined by Santia, during a business lunch at the now closed Champps on Hall Road. Reynolds later used that $7,000 on a family vacation to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, staying in a high-end resort that cost upward of $600 per night.

When prosecutors asked Modi why he wrote “loan” on his checks to Reynolds, Modi said Reynolds told him “it wouldn’t look like a bribe.”

Santia testified that Modi funneled money through his company Traffic Engineering Consultants and then to Modi’s wife’s company, SAI, so Modi could help make money back on bribe payments that Reynolds never reimbursed.

Santia later said the federal government couldn’t use his testimony against him, adding that “at that time” he didn’t feel he did anything illegal, even though he “heard through the grapevine” that Reynolds was “taking money from a lot of different people.”

During a business lunch at Andiamo restaurant on Hall Road in June 2015 with Reynolds, Santia and Modi, Santia became suspicious that Modi — who was working with the FBI by that point — was taping the conversation, because he kept fidgeting with his phone.

“It was continuous; it was pretty obvious,” said Santia, who insisted he was never seeking a bribe of his own from Modi. 

Santia admitted that he tried to warn Reynolds by using nonverbal cues, with Reynolds actually feeling for a wire on Modi’s back following the lunch.

Other money that changed hands included Marco giving Harris $9,000 on three separate occasions at a New Haven coney island, in relation to Rizzo and Harris working together to oust Waste Management as New Haven’s trash company. Also, Marco gave Reynolds $3,000 on behalf of Fiore, and it was on tape.

Reynolds was the first of 20 individuals to be charged in the FBI’s county-wide probe, and he was the first to forego a plea deal and take his chances in federal court. This past April, Rizzo was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison.

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