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County Prosecutor Marlinga is charged in rape-case payoffs

BY DAVID ASHENFELTER, NANCY A. YOUSSEF AND AMBER HUNT MARTIN
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

April 23, 2004

Carl Marlinga
County Attorney Carl Marlinga

Carl Marlinga, Macomb County's top law enforcement officer, was indicted Thursday with a state senator and a real estate agent on charges of taking $34,000 in campaign contributions to help rape suspects in two cases.

Besides Marlinga, Macomb County's prosecutor, the federal indictment charged state Sen. Jim Barcia, 52, a Bay City Democrat, and Ralph Roberts, 47, a prominent real estate broker from Clinton Township.

The indictment said Barcia helped bypass federal regulations to get money to Marlinga's ill-fated 2002 congressional campaign. It said the cash came from Roberts in addition to a rape defendant and unidentified lawyers who weren't charged.

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Marlinga and Roberts said they're innocent. Barcia didn't return calls.

"Personally, I'm destroyed. This is obviously the worst point of my life," a grim Marlinga told reporters at his office. "This is insubstantial," he said of the 34-page indictment, calling it "replete with factual mistakes."

"I'm an innocent guy," said Marlinga. "I've always run this office with the utmost integrity. Why would I suddenly change?" He said he expects to be exonerated and does not intend to resign from his $109,000-a-year job.

Barcia's lawyer, Harold Gurewitz of Detroit, said Barcia would fight the charges.

Roberts said he's being charged for doing what "any caring, responsible citizen of this country would have done."

"Two innocent men were in jail for many years," he said in a statement, referring to Jeffrey Moldowan and co-defendant Michael Cristini. "Thank God they are free."

The indictment said Marlinga, against the wishes of his staff, wrote a key legal brief that resulted in a new trial for Moldowan, now 33, of Warren. Moldowan had been convicted in 1991 of raping and beating his former girlfriend. He was acquitted in a retrial last year; Cristini was acquitted two weeks ago.

The nine-count indictment said Marlinga wrote the brief for Moldowan in exchange for $8,000 in campaign contributions from Roberts, who employed Moldowan's sister and picked up Moldowan's cause. Moldowan and Cristini spent more than a dozen years in prison.

In the other rape case, Marlinga allegedly accepted $26,000 from St. Clair Shores real estate agent James Hulet, 73, and his lawyers to cut a lenient plea deal.

At the time, Hulet was charged with repeatedly drugging and raping a teenage girl over a two-year period. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced earlier this year to two years in prison.

In both cases, the money was contributed in the names of other people, the indictment said. Much of it was routed through the Michigan Democratic Party, Barcia's campaign and a political action committee on whose board Roberts served, the indictment said.

All three men were charged with exceeding limits on campaign contributions. Marlinga and Roberts also were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Barcia and Marlinga were charged with making false statements to the Federal Election Commission on finance reports. The maximum penalties range from a year to 20 years in prison.

The men are expected to be arraigned next week.

The indictment came despite Marlinga's personal appeals to a grand jury two weeks ago, plus a four-hour meeting with prosecutors in an effort to head off the charges. After the appearances, Marlinga said he wouldn't seek re-election this year.

State GOP officials and Marlinga's successful congressional opponent, Candice Miller, had requested an investigation after the Free Press reported in August 2002 about Roberts' contribution and Marlinga's legal brief.

Throughout, Marlinga repeatedly portrayed himself as a victim of circumstances who was under intense pressure from the national Democrats to raise campaign money. At worst, Marlinga said, he used poor judgment.

But Thursday's indictment described Marlinga as the orchestrator of a money-for-favors scheme.

It said he was the one who suggested how Roberts, Hulet and Hulet's lawyers could exceed the $2,000 individual cap on contributions. The indictment said they funneled $4,000 through a business PAC, $4,000 through Barcia's campaign and $12,000 through the Michigan Democratic Party, and made contributions in the names of other people.

Some of the money was delivered to Marlinga at his office, the indictment said, and then moved through other groups.

Although Marlinga said he never mixed political and legal discussions with Roberts and the defense lawyers, the indictment said those conversations overlapped. The trial prosecutors were not included in those talks.

Marlinga also suggested Roberts wait until Moldowan's trial judge retired in hopes that the new judge would be more receptive to a retrial, the indictment said.

The indictment also said Marlinga encouraged Hulet's lawyer to settle the victim's civil suit against Hulet because a lenient plea deal "would be a lot easier if he had a happy victim."

After the Free Press wrote about some of the contributions, Marlinga allegedly called Roberts to get their stories straight.

The indictment said all of the contributions "constituted a quid pro quo, that is, payment in exchange for defendant Marlinga taking official action as Macomb County prosecutor."

According to the indictment, Marlinga met with Hulet's lawyers in August 2002 and discussed campaign contributions, as well as the timing of the Hulet and Moldowan trials. The indictment also said one of the attorneys there represented both Hulet and Moldowan.

The attorney is not named in the indictment and the Detroit office's first assistant U.S. attorney, Jonathan Tukel, declined to identify him.

Macomb County court records identify Dennis Johnston of St. Clair Shores as Moldowan's attorney during his retrial. Johnston also represented Hulet in the plea deal, according to the records. He did not respond to telephone messages Thursday.

If Marlinga goes to trial, his honest and hard-working reputation will help him with jurors, said former federal prosecutor Richard Zuckerman of Detroit.

In addition, he said, "It's difficult, in the absence of people speaking very directly, to prove that a donation is tied to a favor. . . . In this kind of case, juries are hesitant to fill in the blank."

Marlinga is the second high county official to be charged in recent years.

Sheriff William Hackel was convicted in April 2000 of criminal sexual conduct. Marlinga, who testified as a character witness for Hackel, called him one of the most trustworthy public officials he knew.

"This is a sad day," Marlinga said at the time. "He was the last person you would expect this to happen to."

Marlinga said Thursday he feels sick for Barcia and Roberts because they did nothing wrong.

"James Barcia is a totally, totally innocent third party," he said. "The sad thing about Ralph Roberts is that he's just a do-gooder who tried to help somebody he thought was innocent -- and he ends up getting indicted for it."

Word about the indictments spread through the county's administration building about lunchtime. Assistant prosecutors there said the mood was somber.

"Some people seem shocked, some people seem like they knew it was coming and it was just a matter of time," said assistant prosecutor Chad Davis.

Mostly, he said, the lawyers were focusing on doing their jobs.

"I hope justice prevails, whatever that may be," Davis said.

To read the indictment, go to www.freep.com/pdf/2004/04/23/marlinga.pdf.

Contact DAVID ASHENFELTER at 313-223-4490 or ashenf@freepress.com. Contact AMBER HUNT MARTIN at 586-469-4904 or hunt@freepress.com. Staff writers Alexa Capeloto and Mary Owen contributed to this report.


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