Former Macomb criminal defense attorney pens tell all book
The seed for Paul Zyburski becoming a criminal defense lawyer came in 1980 at age 19 after he says he was nearly beaten to death by Warren cops.
Zyburski says the incident provided him the motivation and money – a $25,000 settlement of his would-be lawsuit – to graduate from a prestigious law school and begin a wild ride in Macomb County’s criminal justice scene and a financially-rewarding career.
Over his career — beginning in 1986 — Zyburski cemented himself as a “courtroom fixer” among the local criminal element and participant in a court system he says was rampant with corruption. He admits to a long history of a partying lifestyle, including abuse of drugs and alcohol that led to a stint in rehab and contributed to a one-year suspension of his law license along with a federal criminal conviction resulting in disbarment and prison.
The Roseville native was indicted by U.S. attorneys on drug charges in 2018 while his was running for judge in the town he grew up in. He pleaded guilty to a 20-year drug charge and served over six months in a tough federal prison and several months in a halfway house before being released and serving an astounding 500 hours of community service.
Zyburski, 60, of Marysville, recounts his roller-coaster career in an entertaining 217-page, self-published paperback called, “From Pepperdine to Prison. The Life of a Courtroom Fixer,” which was released this fall with a 500-count printing.
His tale chronicles his interaction with what he calls the “Motor City mafia,” judges, other lawyers and fellow prisoners that can be of particular interest to readers familiar with the characters, some of whom are named while others are not or are given fictitious names.
“I can back everything up in there,” Zyburski said in an interview. “I became an expert in getting rid of cases.”
Still, the book carries legal qualifiers. Among other things, the notes say, “No warranty is made with respect with (sic) the accuracy and completeness of the information contained therein ….”
His path began after he was charged with assaulting a police officer as part of the incident in which he was beaten after mouthing off to cops. Appearing in front of the late judge George Montgomery in Warren district court, Montgomery asked Zyburski what he wanted to do with his life.
“Without giving it much thought, I said, ‘I think I want to be a lawyer,’” Zyburski says in the book. “The whole courtroom started laughing. At that point I realized that if I can make a whole courtroom laugh when I’m 19 years old without a law degree, I can only imagine what I could do with a degree.”
Montgomery promised he would give him case assignments if he returned as a lawyer. The judge dismissed the charge against him and admonished the officers.
Several years later Zyburski was back. To get there, Zyburski attended Michigan State University, during which he showed an interest in politics and law, and got near-perfect grades, he says.
“Law school was the next logical choice,” he says.
An MSU visiting professor from University of California, Berkley recognized Zyburski’s academic success and recommended he attend Pepperdine University in California, aka the “West Coast Harvard,” Zyburski says. He obtained a partial scholarship and completed law school. He served an internship at 20th Century Fox in nearby Los Angeles, where he had an interaction with the actor Michael Douglas.
He failed the Bar exam in Michigan twice because of excessive partying until finally passing the third time.
Early in his career, one local judge, the now-deceased William Cannon of Clinton Township, took an interest in Zyburski, and they became close friends, he says. Zyburski played hockey with one of Cannon’s sons.
Cannon granted him many dismissals of criminal cases and was able to influence cases under the jurisdiction of other judges, he says. Zyburski stops short of admitting engaging in bribery.
“He treated me good and I wanted to treat him good,” he said in an interview.
Zyburski says he quickly gained credibility in the legal field from Cannon and the late lawyer T. John Lesinski, a former lieutenant governor of Michigan and one-time chief judge of the state Court of Appeals. Zyburski was hired because he knew attorney, Martin Krall, who worked with Lesinski. Krall had represented Zyburski in the cop beating incident.
Zyburski, aka “Pauli,” also was boosted by a strong-and-long friendship with Francesco Bommarito, aka “Frankie da Bomb,” an “eastside legend” among outlaws who “loved to introduce me as the consigliore,” he says in the book.
Zyburskly gradually built a reputation as someone who can “fix any case at any time under any circumstance,” which he says in the book is “obviously an exaggeration” but gave him stature among some other judges who treated him favorably.
“The judge sends a case to their so called friend,” he says in the book. “Their friends give a kickback to the judge. There’s the usual lunches, dinners or sporting events, and vacations, that’s a big one. And yes, there are kickbacks in the form of cash.”
The judges “want access to the perks that I’m throwing around like Rip Taylor (the late actor) threw confetti,” or, “They just assumed I knew about their own involvement into their personal or professional wrongdoings,” he writes.
Cannon always told him, “Everybody in Macomb County can be bought,” Zyburski said in an interview.
Several times in the book he calls Macomb the most corrupt county in the United States and “a cesspool of greed and corruption.” It’s an apparent reference to the following 2019 statement by Matthew Schneider, then the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, “Our statistics show (Michigan leads) the nation in corruption cases, by far.”
Michigan had experienced about 18 corruption investigations for each of the last five years while most other states averaged one corruption case a year over the past five years, except for New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, which had had about four per year, according to Schneider.
The FBI wrote of “systemic corruption in multiple municipalities in southeast Michigan, primarily Macomb County,” in 2016 when Dean Reynolds was the first defendant to be indicted as part of a several-year, widespread federal corruption investigation centered in Macomb County that ended this year. It resulted in criminal convictions of more than two dozen people.
Those indicted include former county prosecutor Eric Smith, who pleaded guilty in federal court to federal obstruction of justice for trying to cover up using campaign funds for personal expenses and in June began serving a 21-month sentence. Smith also faces 10 felony charges including racketeering and embezzlement in state court on allegations he illicitly spent several hundred thousand dollars in public funds. He is scheduled to go on trial next May.
Several local criminal-defense lawyers, including Stephen Rabaut, one of the most respected criminal defense attorneys in the county, told The Macomb Daily they haven’t witnessed or learned of corruption among judges in the recent past as described by Zyburski.
Cannon retired in 2005 under a cloud of scrutiny as the Michigan Attorney General’s office began an investigation of mismanagement and missing money from the district court. From a separate investigation, he later pleaded no contest to embezzlement under $20,000 for stealing a client’s money. Zyuburski said he remained a friend to Cannon up until his 2011 death.
While Zyburski’s allegations are from the past, he insists a couple of current local judges have engaged in some ethically challenged behavior but avoids specifically naming them, giving them nicknames that may tip off some readers as to their identities.
One of the judges demanded cash from Zyburski and once swiped an envelope containing $5,000 in cash from him at a social function, acts among others that prompted Zyburski to “cut all ties” to him.
Zyburski’s first contact with the underworld began as a teenager when one of his friends got a job working at a notorious restaurant that was “a mob hangout” located in an industrial stretch amid a working class neighborhood in Roseville, Zyburski says. He and his friends “were allowed to go into the bar area and drink” after they turned 16, he says. He says he marveled at the mobsters who hung out there and was introduced to a table of mobsters by his uncle when he was 17.
“It was 1970’s real ‘Goodfellas’ s—,’” referencing the mob movie in the book.
But it was Zyburski’s friendship with “Frankie the Bomb” that spawned his association with people with well-known mob names in Macomb County and metro Detroit.
Zyburski talks in the book about meetings with Bommarito and other alleged mobsters with familiar names, as well as Harry “Taco” Bowman, international president of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club who was No. 1 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list at one time. Zyburski’s work with one client “catapulted me into a whole new line of business, the Chaldean Gangsters,” he says.
Bommarito’s status grew due to mentions in the book “Motor City Mafia,” Zyburski says.
The work was lucrative as criminal defendants learned of Zyburski’s reputation and would pay large sums to get a case dismissed or reduced.
Zyburski describes one bizarre incident in the late 1990s in which he got a random call from an unnamed judge who set up a meeting between him and a “court officer.” At the meeting in a bar parking lot, the man threw a hockey bag into Zyburski’s car.
“Count it out and we’ll get back to you,” the man told him.
The bag was filled with cash. Zyburski, fearing going to his own home, went to his mother’s house and counted the money in his childhood bedroom. It totaled $378,000.
After a couple of meetings and being told he should be “grateful to receive the ridiculous amount they offered,” he says he returned the cash, believing it was “drug money” and that the original amount was likely over $500,000 before it got to him and some of it got poached.
While that was a lot of money, it was less than Zyburski had made, he says. He announces at the start of the book he made his first million dollars by age 36.
“At 37 I’m broke and in a rehab facility.” He says he made another million dollars by 46, lost it at 47, and earned it back by 56, when he decided to run for judge in his hometown.
“There was never any doubt that I would win,” he says despite four other formidable candidates.
But in June 2018, he was indicted on allegation he used a telephone to further drug trafficking, a five-year felony. His arrest was reported in newspapers and on TV news.
Zyburski stopped campaigning by July 1. Judge Kathleen Tocco later won the seat.
A superseding indictment in September 2018 heightened the stakes, charging him with conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine for six months ending in May 2018, along with three co-defendants who were accused of being part of a drug ring. The new charges carried a mandatory minimum term of five years in prison and a maximum of 40 years.
He says he got visits from “numerous judges” who vowed to help in his defense and five who expressed concern about Zyburski talking to the feds, which he declined to do.
“With one conversation I could’ve skated from this thing,” he said in an interview. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
Believing he was innocent, he wanted to fight the charges. He says his only act of wrongdoing was hosting parties at his Macomb Township home where some attendees used cocaine supplied by the the drug-ring leader.
In the end, he says he was “running out of money” to take the case to trial and pleaded to aiding and abetting possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. He was sentenced in July 2019 by Judge Robert Cleland to one year in prison, three years of supervised release and an astronomical 500 hours of community service, along with substance-abuse treatment.
He served at the federal prison in Milan, where he says he went into the depths of despair and prayed. The noise and smells in the prison are almost unbearable.
“This is a f—— insane asylum,” he writes. “It’s bedlam.”
He says he suffered from severe depression.
“The feeling of loss, abandonment, and negligence is overwhelming,” he writes in the book, adding he survived with the help of a sense of humor.
He describes a world of 1,600 inmates where the social norms dictate segregation mostly based on race, with about half of the population being Black, a quarter Latin and a quarter white, with a few Asians, Arabs and Native Americans sprinkled in. The whites are partially subdivided into the “Chomos” (child molesters) and “Snitches,” he says.
He meets several characters, including Dean Reynolds, a former Clinton Township trustee who was convicted for bribery as part of the corruption investigation and was sentenced by Cleland to 17 years in prison.
Zyburski says he feels sorry for Reynolds and believes his sentence was way too harsh considering the bribery involved was only about $100,000.
“That poor bastard. I feel for the guy. He’s doing horrible in prison. He’s delusional. He thinks he’s getting out,” Zyburski said in an interview. “He didn’t have the ability to turn others in. If you go to trial, you get double the sentence.”
Zyburski says while he believes he was wrongly charged and convicted, is thankful and believes prison helped him take responsibility.
“Although I believe I’m justified to feel victimized by this ridiculous indictment, being in prison gave me the opportunity (to) take responsibility,” he says in the book. “If I wouldn’t have allowed drugs in my house I wouldn’t have been linked to such absurdity.”
In an interview, he said, “This book is not about bashing the feds. I just lost to them.”
Zyburski was released from prison after about six months due to COVID-19 entering the facility and served multiple months in a halfway house until he was surprisingly released one day.
He says he has taken advantage of a fresh start, starting a prison consulting business and moving out of Macomb County to neighboring St. Clair County, “off the beaten path.”
Former Macomb criminal defense attorney pens tell all book
The stories involve his interaction with what he calls the “Motor City mafia,” judges, other lawyers and fellow prisoners at times can be gripping or entertaining, particularly to people familiar w…