State Rep. Steve Marino, whose name surfaced repeatedly at the Larry Inman bribery trial in Lansing, has engaged in a host of political shenanigans throughout his political career, all the way back to, well, to 2014 when he was first elected at age 25.
The young Republican from Macomb County raised suspicions that he was allegedly involved in Rep. Inman’s scheme to pocket $10,000—perhaps as much as $30,000—in campaign contributions in exchange for voting to maintain the state’s prevailing wage law. Testimony suggested that Marino allegedly was keeping a tally of planned money exchanges as 12 House Republicans were targeted in 2018 by the carpenters union for an infusion of campaign bucks as an incentive to preserve the law.
During the trial, investigators tried to subpoena Marino to force him to testify. But they couldn’t find him. The FBI tried to interview him but he reportedly “made himself unavailable” and stopped returning the bureau’s phone calls. Inman, a Grand Rapids Republican, was saved by a deadlocked jury, though prosecutors may try him again. Marino is the guy who got away. Scot free.
A strange path into politics
Yet, Marino’s story of strange and sometimes sleazy politics took several twists and turns before that futile attempt to serve him with a subpoena.
The Harrison Township Republican decided in 2013, for God knows what reason, to pursue a career in politics. At that point, since he had first become a registered voter five years earlier, Marino had cast a ballot in just three of 13 elections. Among those he missed were the 2008 and 2010 general elections and the presidential primary of 2012.
Marino ran for county commissioner and caught a break. His challenger in the August 2014 GOP primary died in June, early enough so his name could be removed from the ballot, leaving Marino unopposed for the nomination. He won the general election that fall by tacitly inserting into the campaign the sudden death of the wife of his Democratic competitor, a tragedy years earlier that led to personal bankruptcy for the candidate.
Based on his campaign resume, Marino was an apparently self-employed political consultant (with no political experience) who specialized in assisting candidates with completion of their campaign finance reports. During the campaign, the county fined Marino for failing to file his campaign finance report on time.
Marino – enforcer of integrity?
When the commissioners were sworn into office in January 2015, they elected Marino as their Sergeant-At-Arms. That’s the guy who is supposed to keep everything orderly and proper during meetings of the Board of Commissioners. Steve Marino – enforcer of integrity in Macomb County government.
Things got a lot more shady when Marino quickly decided that he needed a promotion. In February 2016, he announced his candidacy for state House in a highly competitive, nearly 50-50 district.
That’s when Marino, then a 27-year-old lobbyist, became infamous in Michigan politics. Democrat “trackers” secretly taped Marino’s remarks to small groups of constituents and supporters at informal coffee klatch events that summer.
The tapes made public by the Democrat Party caught Marino saying: U.S. corporations should take advantage of overseas child labor laws in factories that employ kids 10 to 12 years old; the Social Security eligibility age should be raised to 75; outsourcing jobs to China is an effective means for corporations to avoid paying American wage rates; as a lobbyist, he paid big bar tabs racked up by state legislators and, that he engaged in a ploy to avoid paying part of his property tax bill on the lakefront home he bought from his father.
When the media grabbed ahold of the story, Marino backpedaled furiously. He recanted the story about buying booze for lawmakers, shamelessly saying he made it all up.
The liberal website Eclectablog concluded that Marino is either, “a sleazy lobbyist, a tax cheat, or an unmitigated liar. Or maybe all of the above.”
It seemed that things couldn’t get worse for Marino. But they did.
Indicted drug dealer to host his fundraiser
He announced an October campaign fundraiser at the home of his neighbor, Dr. Jennifer Franklin, though the invitations didn’t mention that she had been indicted by the feds as part of a drug ring that pedaled addictive pain killers such as Oxycodone.
Marino tried to spin the story when Franklin’s background became public, but in the end he cancelled the event. Months later, Franklin pleaded guilty in federal court to using her authority as a physician to help sell more than $2 million in pain pills on the street.
The political situation became so bad, Republican leaders in Lansing and pro-GOP lobbyists were ready to cut the cord on the self-destructive Marino, though his district was a high priority for the party.
Still, on Election Day in November 2016 Marino easily won election in the 24th House District (Harrison Township and parts of Clinton and Macomb townships), over a well-known Democrat county commissioner. Straight-ticket voting and the pro-Donald Trump furor, especially in that area of Macomb County, certainly played a major factor. He won re-election to the House by an identical margin in 2018.
To this day, it seems a safe bet that many of Marino’s constituents are entirely unaware of his path to that House seat or his recent ties to the Inman bribery scandal. Maybe some know him from his outrageous dog-and-pony show in 2017 when he introduced a package of bills to toughen ethics rules for legislators.
For others, in the wake of all the Macomb County political corruption unearthed in recent years, perhaps Marino is accepted as a chip off the old block.
A freelance writer from Macomb County, was the political reporter at The Macomb Daily for nearly 30 years. At the Daily he earned 50 journalism awards and in 2014 he was named by Politico as one of the “Media Stars” in seven political battleground states. He can be reached at [email protected]