Ex-building inspector headed to jail

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — A former supervisor in the now-closed Building and Safety Department last week became the highest-ranking city employee yet to face incarceration for on-the-job corruption.

Andrew Pizzino, who long was in charge of residential building inspections, was sentenced to 45 days in jail, 24 months of probation and $1,400 in court costs and fines for using his public position to manipulate favorable terms on two house purchases.

All penalties are the maximum permitted, except for the jail time, which could have extended to 90 days. The sentence also far exceeds a recommendation from the Probation Department of one year probation and time on the court’s work program.

In remarks to the court, Pizzino apologized for his actions but also said that none of this would have been a problem had he gone before the city’s Board of Ethics board before going through with the purchases.

“I have gone to the Ethics Board several times (on property purchases) in the past,” Pizzino said. “I think this time I just got lazy.”

Chief Judge Mark Somers of the 19th District Court was skeptical of Pizzino’s remorse, saying a couple things were notably absent from his statement.

“What about the victims?” Somers questioned. “The clear intent of this scheme was to profit financially by way of fraud.”

Somers said Pizzino committed a serious violation of the public trust, adding that his actions now will raise a skeptical eye with any contractor or homeowner who deals with city building authorities.

As Somers read off the sentence, Pizzino remained stoic. Raymond Cassar, Pizzino’s attorney, asked that his client be given until Friday to get his affairs in order before reporting to jail, but Somers denied the request.

“You knew coming here that there was a distinct possibility of jail time” Somers said. “Now it’s time to pay the piper.”

And with that, Pizzino, head down, was escorted for processing.

City Prosecutor William DeBiasi called the near-maximum sentence “appropriate,” adding that Somers likely left some jail time available to use as leverage if Pizzino violates the terms of his probation.

The charges stem from two Dearborn houses he purchased under fraudulent circumstances and resold for a profit between 2002 and 2005. The combined profit on the properties was $156,000, according to land records.

City attorneys said that in both instances, the sellers were not residents of the house – estate trustees, in one case. In presale inspections of the properties, Pizzino overstated the estimated repair costs to bring the house to code and then offered to buy the houses at a deep discount, attorneys said.

“He’d say there’s a (large) number of repairs that needs to be done to get a certificate of occupancy, and that’s going to cost you X amount of money, usually a pretty high number,” DeBiasi said.

“The person, given their position (as nonresidents), would not want to invest a lot of money in fixing up the house. So he would say that another alternative is that I will purchase the house at significantly less than market value and assume responsibility for making the repairs.”

Then Pizzino would make only some or none of the repairs and resell the properties, DeBiasi said.

Both houses had glaring structural issues at the time Pizzino sold them, including foundation issues at one and a leaning garage at the other.

Still unresolved in his case is the matter of restitution. Somers will hold a hearing to determine a figure when Pizzino concludes his jail sentence.

And it is not yet entirely clear how or why city building inspectors passed inspections on the properties when Pizzino put them on the market when there were such readily apparent problems.

However, Robert Deberardino, another former department supervisor, has been charged with aiding and abetting Pizzino. Attorneys for Deberardino currently are appealing a district court decision that denied a motion to have the city’s legal department removed from the prosecution on technical grounds that city attorneys can’t prosecute fellow city employees.