Judge shows mercy to ex-Romulus mayor who spent campaign money on yacht club, wedding

Former Romulus Mayor LeRoy Burcroff used campaign funds to help pay for his daughter's yacht club wedding, his yacht club dues and a Florida vacation with friends — but he isn't going to prison for any of it, despite his guilty plea.

Instead, a federal judge on Thursday gave the convicted ex-politician three years' probation and four months' home confinement, sparing him a prison sentence that the government sought. Federal prosecutors had requested that Burcroff be locked up for 14 months for betraying the public's trust by using more than $15,000 in campaign money for personal spending.

"The residents of Romulus, Michigan, put their trust in defendant LeRoy Burcroff. Those who supported the defendant with their wallet and their vote likely never expected this aspiring politician to spend their hard-earned money on a family wedding, a Florida vacation with friends or a yacht club membership," Assistant U.S. Attorney Eaton P. Brown wrote in a sentencing memo that urged the judge to lock Burcroff up.

"Sadly, over a period of over four years, the defendant made a mockery of the city’s slogan — the 'Home of Opportunity' — by stealing thousands of dollars in campaign donations to enhance his lifestyle."

LeRoy Burcroff, Mayor of Romulus, speaks during the dedication ceremony at the new Mopar Parts Distribution Center in Romulus, Mich. on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
LeRoy Burcroff, Mayor of Romulus, speaks during the dedication ceremony at the new Mopar Parts Distribution Center in Romulus, Mich. on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.

Brown added: "The defendant’s deceit and dishonesty must be punished."

'I made some terrible mistakes, made some terrible decisions'

Burcroff, though, convinced U.S. District Judge Denise Paige Hood to show him mercy. In a letter to the judge, the 59-year-old father and grandfather described himself as a prayerful man and avid community volunteer who was lucky enough to marry his high school sweetheart, raise children with her and pass down his family's theme to his kids: "Always do the right thing."

As for his crime — he pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 2022, admitting he used $4,500 in campaign funds to help cover his daughter's yacht-club wedding — he wrote:

"I agonize everyday over what I did. I wish I could do things over, but I know I can't."

He went on to say:

"I never thought I would be in this position standing before a judge, admitting to breaking the law, and asking for your leniency. ... I made some terrible mistakes, made some terrible decisions. ... I am so sorry."

While Burcroff pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, he did not admit during his plea hearing to using more than $15,000 in campaign money for personal reasons, which is what he was charged with.

According to the government, in addition to using campaign money to help pay for a wedding bar tab and church ceremony fees, Burcroff also did the following:

  • In 2017, he used campaign money to overpay his membership dues at the Belleville Yacht Club. When the club realized the mistake, management wrote a $2,000 check to reimburse him for what they believed was an oversight. "This was no misstep, however," prosecutors wrote in court documents. "Upon receiving the reimbursement, (he) promptly deposited the sum into his personal bank account."

  • In 2014, Burcroff bought a $23,000 Ford Focus with campaign funds that he used “extensively for personal purposes,” then later bought a $27,000 Jeep Wrangler that he used for “similar impermissible personal excursions.”

  • In March 2018, he bought his way onto the board of a local trade organization, Power Transmission Distributors Association, by making a $1,000 donation to the group from his campaign account.

  • In January 2019, he flew his wife and two friends to Florida for a weekend vacation — courtesy of his campaign donors. The couples stayed in a luxury hotel and dined in fine restaurants to the tune of more than $4,000 — all of which was billed to the campaign. The friends who accompanied him on the trip reimbursed him for their portion of the vacation. Burcroff then deposited the friends' money into his personal account, thus doubling his money.

In 2020, after WXYZ broke details about Burcroff's campaign scheme, Burcroff reimbursed his campaign $35,000.

Following Burcroff's sentencing hearing, U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison stated that Burcroff’s conviction and sentence"underscores our commitment to ensuring that" communities in southeast Michigan "are represented by public officials who have integrity and are seeking office not for their self-interest, but for the good of the people they are elected to represent.”

Added Detroit's FBI chief Cheyvoryea Gibson: "The former mayor's actions severely undermined the confidence of those who bestowed trust and faith in him and his office. ... We will not tolerate misconduct and will do everything we can to ensure justice is served."

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Judge gives ex-Romulus mayor probation for his campaign crimes