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Second person charged in Macomb corruption probe; Rizzo founder resigns

Clifford Freitas
via LinkedIn
Clifford Freitas

An FBI probe into Macomb County municipal corruption has netted another local elected official, and forced a major garbage company founder to resign.

Macomb Township trustee Clifford Freitas is the second local government official charged with bribery this month.

Frietas allegedly demanded more than $40,000 in bribes to help a waste hauler, Rizzo Environmental Services, get a favorable contract.

That happened despite the fact that Freitas worked for Rizzo, and was supposed to remove himself from any government business involving the company.

In 2015, Freitas obtained bid information about the bid process from a “source of information inside the Macomb Township government.”

He then advised a Rizzo representative of a bid price that would win the contract, according to a criminal complaint dated October 24.

In return, it's alleged that Rizzo then paid Freitas $7,500 in the form of a “loan.” The FBI says the company reimbursed him in cash to cover the cost of repayment.

After Rizzo won the contract, it’s alleged that he arranged to get an additional $35,000 to get billing for the contract rolled into the Macomb Township water bill. According to the complaint, that direct payment from the municipality, rather than individual customers, “would save the company a significant amount of money.”

The company representative who allegedly bribed Freitas began cooperating with the FBI in early 2016. The FBI says he paid Freitas a $2,000 “controlled bribe” in May 2016, and the transaction was captured on video.

Freitas is the second Macomb County elected official charged with bribery this month.

A Clinton Township trustee, Dean Reynolds, has also been charged with accepting bribes to help Rizzo get a contract there. Both Freitas and Reynolds were released on $10,000 personal bonds following initial federal court appearances.

The charges stem from an “ongoing and long-running” FBI investigation into “systemic corruption” in several Detroit-area communities, primarily in Macomb County.

The probe apparently centers around Rizzo, which provides waste-hauling services to 48 cities and townships in southeast Michigan, including Detroit.

As the federal charge against Freitas was announced Tuesday, the company announced that its founder, Chuck Rizzo, Jr., was resigning.

The FBI hasn’t officially named Rizzo as the company involved in the probe, nor the company representative-turned-informant who helped lead investigators to Freitas, Reynolds, and possibly other elected officials who took bribes. But Rizzo has said it’s cooperating with investigators.

Rizzo was acquired by Toronto-based GFL Environmental, Inc. earlier this month. GFL officials say they weren’t aware of the FBI investigation before the sale.

The company will dump the Rizzo brand altogether and replace it with GFL labeling going forward, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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