Judge acquits woman in Bloomingdale Township kickback trial before co-defendant takes stand
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly’s acquittal of Debra Fazio after the feds rested their case amounts to an extremely rare loss for prosecutors.
In an extremely rare move, a federal judge on Friday cleared a woman of charges alleging that she paid kickbacks to Bloomingdale Township’s onetime road commissioner, ruling after prosecutors rested their case in a weeklong trial.
The trial of Debra Fazio and Mario Giannini began June 3. Former Bloomingdale Township Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek testified Wednesday about the money he said he illegally took from the couple who ran an excavation business, Bulldog Earth Movers.
However, Czernek testified that he never spoke with Fazio about the scheme. Rather, he said Giannini would come speak to him over the years, saying, “We could make some money.”
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly on Friday acquitted Fazio after prosecutors wrapped up their case, leaving only Giannini to face a jury. He took the witness stand to testify in his own defense later Friday and denied participating in the scheme.
Heather Winslow, Fazio’s attorney, said in a statement that, “We are thankful to the judge for his ruling. We are acutely aware that this is an extraordinary order. It was the right one in this case.”
Fazio owned Bulldog, and Giannini worked there as an employee. They were first charged along with Czernek in August 2020.
Czernek pleaded guilty in March to honest services wire fraud. His plea agreement alleged that he hatched a scheme with Giannini in 2012 that began as a plan to pad Bulldog’s invoices but evolved until the men agreed to have Bulldog bill the township for work it never performed. The scam lasted until 2020.
When he pleaded guilty, Czernek agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in hopes of a lighter sentence. Winslow and Giannini’s attorney, Susan Pavlow, warned jurors in opening statements that Czernek is a liar who shouldn’t be trusted.
“Ms. Fazio paid invoices that were presented to her, deposited checks that were given to her, and she did all of this believing that those checks and invoices were for lawfully performed work,” Winslow told jurors at the time.
Czernek has said he left handwritten notes for Giannini on the grounds of the Bloomingdale Township Highway Department, providing information Bulldog needed to include on bogus invoices. Czernek testified that he would leave notes in various places, including Giannini’s BBQ grill.
The former road commissioner has said he steered more than $700,000 to Bulldog.