White-collar crooks

Jan 30, 2002 at 12:00 am

As far as News Hits is concerned, few things are more satisfying than seeing swindlers who once occupied executive suites wind up behind bars.

After all, if courts are going to lock up your average car thief, then they damn well ought to throw the book at cheats in tailored suits who filch millions of dollars. Which is why we’re eagerly waiting to see what sort of punishment is meted out to John Pietilla, a participant in the MCA Financial Corp. caper who pleaded guilty to fraud charges in a Detroit federal court last week.

When the Southfield-based company went belly up in 1999, investors and creditors were left looking to recoup some $200 million they’d entrusted to MCA officials. Adding to the misery were about 3,500 Detroit properties the company abandoned, contributing to blight across the city.

In an appearance before U.S. District Judge John Feikens, former MCA chief financial officer Pietilla pleaded guilty to charges that he helped create false financial statements that misled investors and lenders.

“MCA’s financial statements were false and portrayed the company as healthy when it was not healthy,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Hiyama. “People who invest in the company or loan it money rely on those documents.”

Pietilla faces a maximum sentence of more than eight years in prison and fines up to $500,000. He could also be ordered to repay investors and lenders, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The sentencing hearing date has not yet been set.

The 52-year-old Ann Arbor resident’s plea agreement requires cooperating with the investigation of other executives. Former MCA vice presidents Alexander J. Ajemian and Cheryl Swain pleaded guilty to fraud last year. They too have yet to be sentenced. Criminal cases are still pending against other honchos, including former Chief Executive Officer Patrick D. Quinlan and former Chief Operating Officer Lee P. Wells.

See ya in court, guys. And wear your best suits.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]