As the FBI’s public corruption investigation continues to snag more Macomb County politicians, the taxpayers’ legal tab keeps going up, too.
Out of five public officials charged so far, two have qualified for court-appointed attorneys, the latest being New Haven Trustee Christopher Craigmiles, who made his initial appearance in federal court today on charges he took a $5,000 bribe from an undercover agent in exchange for his vote on a future Rizzo garbage contract.
Standing behind the lectern in a black checkered shirt, Craigmiles asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford for a court-appointed lawyer after having already filled out the required financial affidavit, which is what defendants fill out when they can’t afford their own private attorney. Under federal law, an accused has a right to a lawyer in criminal cases. And if they can’t afford an attorney — which is the case in the vast majority of federal criminal cases — one will be appointed, which is what Stafford did for the 43-year-old Craigmiles.
Craigmiles is charged with pocketing a $5,000 bribe in August from an undercover agent he met through a friend and now co-defendant: former New Haven Trustee Brett Harris, 57, who is charged with accepting $11,000 in cash bribes from an undercover agent in exchange for his support of a Rizzo contract.
The charging documents naming Harris and Craigmiles do not name Rizzo — referring to the contractor only as “Company A” — but sources familiar with the case have told the Free Press that the bribes that Craigmiles and Harris took both involved Rizzo.
Craigmiles declined to comment as he left the courtroom with a woman who wore a black North Face jacket. His court-appointed attorney, Stacey Studnicki, was not available for comment.
Craigmiles and Harris, who were charged on Jan. 12, were the fourth and fifth defendants to be ensnared in the FBI’s wide-sweeping probe into pay to play schemes across Macomb County.
Unlike Craigmiles, however, Harris has hired prominent criminal defense attorney Steven Fishman to defend him. Fishman has handled numerous high profile cases, including the bribery case involving former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers.
Craigmiles and Harris were the fourth and fifth defendants to be ensnared in the FBI’s investigation, which was publicly disclosed in October and has since triggered the resignation of Rizzo CEO Chuck Rizzo Jr. The Rizzo brand also has been dissolved.
According to court documents, Harris was in cahoots with another public official who has been charged in the case: former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds, who is charged with accepting bribes from Rizzo for helping Rizzo secure an $18-million contract extension.
Authorities allege that it was Reynolds who unwittingly introduced Harris to the undercover FBI agent who paid Harris bribes.
Reynolds, authorities allege, introduced Harris to the undercover agent on March 31. Five months later, Harris introduced the undercover agent to Craigmiles.
The FBI’s investigation has included telephone wiretaps, consensual audio and video recordings by cooperative individuals, undercover operations, physical surveillance, telephone tracking warrants and subpoenas of financial records and documents.
GFL Environmental — the Canada-based company that bought Rizzo just weeks before the FBI disclosed its corruption investigation — has said that it does not “currently contract waste hauling services for the Village of New Haven.” According to GFL, Rizzo last served New Haven in October 2014 .
Rizzo Environmental Services, which had trash contracts in more than 50 communities across metro Detroit, has not been charged in the case. GFL is rebranding all of Rizzo’s trucks and painting them lime green.
Former Macomb Township Trustee Clifford Freitas and former Chesterfield Township Supervisor Michael Lovelock are the other two politicians who have been charged in the pay-to-play probe. Freitas, who worked for Rizzo while the company was trying to secure a garbage contract, has a private lawyer. Lovelock has a court-appointed attorney.
Free Press reporter Chris Hall contributed to this report.
Tresa Baldas can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas.