Ex-Official Gets Home Detention For Tainted Deals

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A former top D.C. government property manager was sentenced to home detention and probation yesterday for steering millions of dollars in contracts to two area companies in exchange for trips, watches, a plasma television, cowboy boots and cash.

Michael Lorusso, 44, pleaded guilty to bribery charges in 2004 for his role in a scheme that prosecutors said involved two area companies, one controlled by prominent downtown developer Douglas Jemal.

Lorusso, a former deputy director of the District's Office of Property Management, cooperated extensively with the government and testified at Jemal's trial on bribery, conspiracy and fraud charges.

Jemal was acquitted of everything but wire fraud, a charge unrelated to Lorusso's testimony. The developer was sentenced in 2007 to five years of probation by U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina.

Urbina cited Lorusso's cooperation with the government as a reason he spared the former official prison time.

Lorusso apologized in court for his "gluttonous" conduct. In recent years, he said, "I have taken strides to improve my personal and professional behavior."

Lorusso, who helps his mother manage a real estate business, will serve 180 days of home detention and three years of probation in the Boston area, where he lives. He has paid $272,500 in restitution to the D.C. government.

The sentence angered District officials, particularly council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who helped expose Lorusso's dealings in 2003. "It's outrageous," Graham said. "The punishment does not fit the crime."

The sentencing is probably the final chapter in a high-profile public corruption investigation that resulted in incarceration for only one defendant, Blake Esherick, an associate of Jemal who received an eight-month jail term.

Between 2001 and 2003, prosecutors said, Lorusso accepted gifts and cash from Douglas Development Corp., Jemal's business, and International Builders Inc., which was owned by Fernando Villegas.

In exchange, prosecutors said, Lorusso had the District lease $100 million in office space from Douglas Development.

He also awarded to Villegas's firm more than $7 million in construction contracts, or "task orders," often without competitive bidding, for a District municipal building, One Judiciary Square, in the 400 block of Fourth Street NW.

Prosecutors said Lorusso "approved loosely worded 'task orders' and approved invoices for payment to Mr. Villegas, in a fashion as to result in significant profits to Mr. Villegas." Villegas, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to pay bribes, was sentenced to home detention and three years' probation.

Citing Lorusso's cooperation and the other sentences handed out in the related corruption cases, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark H. Dubester and Timothy G. Lynch urged Urbina to sentence Lorusso to "a meaningful period of home detention."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company