Two more charged in building and safety investigation Building inspector says he’s being scapegoated

Andrew Pizzino

Andrew Pizzino

Robert Deberardino

Robert Deberardino

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Two city employees were charged last Wednesday with misdemeanor fraud and ethics violations related to two alleged fraudulent home sales that took place while they were officials of the former Building and Safety Department.

Both were released on a personal bond $500 each and are scheduled for a pretrial conference with a district court prosecutor on Jan. 5. The employees have been suspended indefinitely without pay.

Andrew Pizzino of Dearborn is charged with four misdemeanor counts: two counts of fraud and two counts of ethics violations of the city charter.

The charges stem from a Dearborn house Pizzino purchased allegedly under fraudulent circumstances on Beech in 2004 and resold for a profit in 2005; and for a Dearborn house on Chestnut he purchased allegedly under fraudulent circumstances in 2002 and resold for a profit in 2003, city officials said.

At the time of the transactions, he was a supervisor in the Building and Safety Department. He was reassigned to the Residential Services Department after a restructuring in 2009.

Robert Deberardino of Dearborn was charged with two misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting Pizzino in the alleged fraudulent property transactions in 2003 and 2005.

Deberardino was the deputy director of Building and Safety at the time of the transactions. He had been reassigned to the Economic and Community Development Department following a restructuring in 2009.

Each misdemeanor fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of $500 and 93 days in jail. Each ethics violations carries a maximum penalty of $500 and 90 days in jail. Judge Mark Somers presided over the arraignments in 19th District Court.

Pizzino and Deberardino are the second pair of Building and Safety employees to face charges resulting from an 18-month corruption investigation by local, state and federal authorities.

Former clerks Leticia Bosemon and Wanda Smith currently are awaiting sentencing on felony bribery charges. Bosemon in July pleaded guilty to accepting bribes totaling more than $5,000 a year from 2006 until 2008, when she was arrested. She admitted to creating false performance bonds, which she said she sold to homebuyers looking to skirt city escrow requirements on new home purchases.

In November, Smith pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from contractors to issue work permits at little or no cost. She told prosecutors that over a three-year period she issued more than 1,000 permits under these terms, a sum nearly as much as the 1,200 legitimate permits the department in the 2009 fiscal year. In exchange for her no-to-low-fee permit process, Smith said she received more than $15,000 cash in addition to home and auto repairs.

Police Chief Ronald Haddad said the charges against Pizzino and Deberardino stem from alleged fraudulent inspection reports. He declined to comment on specifics of the cases because the investigation is ongoing, but did say he doesn’t expect any more city employees to be charged.

“Anything can happen, but with this investigation we’ve exhausted everything and we’re right at the end of it,” Haddad said.

According to Wayne County land records, Pizzino purchased a house at 2645 Chestnut in October 2002 for $90,000 and then sold it 11 months later for $143,400. Records also show he purchased a house at 22858 Beech in January 2004 for $100,000 that he sold in June 2005 for $203,000.

Reached by phone Thursday, the seller of the Beech house, Louis Likinay, said investigators interviewed him about the transaction, but that he couldn’t recall anything that appeared improper. Likinay said the house was his late mother’s, and he and his sister had put it on the market when she passed.

“We were just happy to sell it and get rid of it,” Likinay said. “We split the money and that was it.”

Pizzino, a 21-year city employee, similarly was mystified by the controversy surrounding the transaction. Reached at his Dearborn house Thursday evening, Pizzino said both transactions were legitimate and signed off on by superiors.

“These people were selling their house, they wanted a certain amount and I gave it to them,” he said. “(Investigators) are trying to say I did something ethically wrong.”

Pizzino said authorities set their eyes on him after Bosemon, his subordinate, was outed for taking bribes in June 2008. But he was adamant he has committed no crime and believes he is being made a scapegoat for a practice common among his colleagues.

“You ever hear of the ethics board?” he said. “Tell them to check everybody in the Building and Safety Department (to) see how many went to the ethics board for the purchases of houses. I think I’m being singled out for some reason.”

The Board of Ethics is an appointed committee that renders advisory opinions to city officers and employees and conduct investigations into possible ethics violations, according to the city charter. Pizzino said building inspectors are required to report any property purchases they are considering within the city so that the board can review the sale for any conflicts of interest or improprieties.

He did not say whether he had filed reports for the properties in question. But he did say he believes that his reputation as an outgoing, talkative person helped land him in his current legal troubles.

“I have nothing to hide, so that’s why I talk a lot,” Pizzino said. “But people tell me all the time I talk too much, and I know sometimes people like to pick on those they think can’t fight back.”

As he waits for the legal process to play out, the born-and-raised Dearbornite said he would like to see a thorough investigation of every city employee who has been purchasing and selling houses through the years.

“I’m going to rehash what the mayor (John O’Reilly Jr.) said: They went through the building department with a fine-toothed comb,” Pizzino said. “Well, they only pulled my papers. Until recently, I worked there, and they didn’t pull any other inspectors’ papers on their houses or anything like that.”

O’Reilly said the investigation already has been under way for months, and that Pizzino was the first to face charges because police found evidence of fraud in the inspection reports. But O’Reilly also acknowledged that inspectors in the former department often did not file proper disclosure with city ethics advisers.

“There was such an absolute failure in that department to have accountability and to follow its own regulations,” O’Reilly said. “These people, over the long term, despite clear written policy, weren’t doing what they were supposed to do. There is no tolerance for that, and there will be consequences.”

A woman who answered the telephone at Deberardino’s house Thursday said he had no comment on the charges.