Crime buster by day restaurateur by night
Tony Tague said it appears his working life has come full circle.
"My first job out of the house, as a kid making a dollar an hour, was as a dishwasher at a restaurant," he said.
Tague, 51, is not washing dishes but he is working at a restaurant again — in the evenings after his day job is done. He and a business partner have owned and managed a restaurant in Spring Lake, Two Tonys Taverna Grille, for the past two and a half years.
Of course, it's Tague's day job that has made his name practically a household word in Muskegon County, where he has served as county prosecutor for the last 20 years. In November, Tague was elected to his sixth consecutive term, carrying all 81 precincts in the county.
Tague indicated he has mulled the possibility of making this his last term as Muskegon County prosecutor, noting that at the end of this term he is eligible for retirement.
"It is going to be very difficult to give up my badge and retire, but I still love the law and would expect, if I retire, I would continue to practice law in some capacity, although I would certainly also have an opportunity to expand in the restaurant industry — maybe a Two Tonys in Grand Rapids," he said.
Tague, a Democrat, has also been mentioned in at least one news report as a potential presidential appointee to the job of U.S. attorney in the Western Michigan District. He said he has not been "officially notified" by the Obama camp but noted that he was a contender for the job when Bill Clinton first was elected.
“So I believe they assume I will be considered again because of my background and Democratic affiliation,” he said. “I am extremely satisfied with my position as Muskegon County prosecutor and look forward to many more years in my capacity. I will consider alternatives if they are available, but my heart is in prosecution and always has been."
Tague is a native of Grand Haven, where his father, Don Tague, was a long-time member of the police department and eventually chief of police.
He began his university education at the University of Michigan but transferred to Michigan State because of the reputation of the criminal justice school there.
"I was kind of focused on law enforcement" early on, he said, "expecting I was going to be a police officer."
While at MSU he had an after-hours job at a funeral home in Lansing, where a co-worker who was going to law school urged him to do the same, emphasizing that Tague could become a lawyer and still work in law enforcement.
That job at the funeral home also made his job easier after he became a prosecutor, he said. "I didn't mind going to homicides," he said.
Tague attended law school at American University, in Washington, D.C., because he hoped to find more opportunities there. While still in law school, he worked for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. After graduating, his first legal job was on the staff at the New York County District Attorney's Office, commonly known as the Manhattan D.A.'s office.
"I was the token Midwesterner," he joked.
"I figured it would be the best place to train. They're known as the best prosecutor's office in the country," said Tague.
It certainly did offer some unusual contacts and excitement to a young man from Grand Haven: Tague met Robert Kennedy Jr. and Cyrus Vance Jr., who were also on the staff. He was mentored by his supervisor, Al Sullivan, a prosecutor who was involved in such high-profile cases as the murder of John Lennon.
After two years in the Manhattan D.A.'s office, Tague returned to West Michigan in 1984 and joined the Muskegon County prosecutor's office as an assistant prosecutor. He said he believes it became clear to Muskegon County law enforcement officers early on that he was an aggressive prosecutor, a reflection of his having worked in the hectic pace of the Manhattan D.A.'s office. Law enforcement officers sometimes are known to be hard on new assistant prosecutors whom they feel are not experienced or tough enough on criminals.
When he decided to run for county prosecutor in 1988, Tague surveyed police in Muskegon County and stated in his campaign that he was supported by 93 percent of them.
In May 1989, a few months after he was first elected prosecutor, Tague and his investigator, John Jurkas, were working together in a neighborhood when an armed bank robbery was reported nearby. Tague and Jurkas, both armed and backed up by a shotgun-wielding detective, persuaded the cornered robber to surrender. The vivid on-the-scene photographs published in the Muskegon Chronicle were excellent publicity for a prosecutor working to build a reputation for being tough on crime.
Tague said the homicide rate in Muskegon County, which has 175,000 residents, has decreased 65 percent during the last 10 years "as a result of tough prosecution policies focused on drugs, domestic violence and home invasions." He said he has brought people back to face drug charges from as far away as California, New York and even Romania.
"I try running the prosecutor's office like a business, as opposed to a government bureaucracy," he said, which includes constantly reminding his assistant prosecutors to treat crime victims as if they were their clients.
Tague said there are about 35 people employed in the office — roughly the same number of people who work at Two Tonys, where Tague heads most evenings to put in a few more hours of work managing the business. He and his friend and business partner, Tony Moulatsiotis, started the restaurant after years of talking about it, according to Tague. Moulatsiotis is also the treasurer of Muskegon County, another Democrat who just won re-election.
The Two Tonys cuisine is Greek-Italian. Obviously, the other Tony is the Greek in the equation, so some people assume Tague is Italian. He isn't; he said the name Tague is thought to be French. He said he loved the Italian restaurants in Manhattan's Little Italy, which was close to the D.A.'s office, and he loves to cook gourmet meals.
The two Tonys do not try to discourage the aura of a Little Italy restaurant in Spring Lake, a nice place with good food that might supposedly attract the movie-version Mafiosi types. "Two Tonys" is — coincidentally? — the subtitle of a 2004 segment of "The Sopranos." On the lakeshore in the summer, some of the upscale tourists are big fans of Chicago and New York nightlife, so a Manhattan-style Italian restaurant undoubtedly snags attention.
Restaurants tend to employ a high-percentage of young people, which is the case at Two Tonys. Tague said he enjoys getting to know his restaurant staff and, if possible, motivating them toward a good career.
"I kind of feel all the employees at the restaurant are another family," he said.
A restaurant is undoubtedly a much happier place than a county courthouse.
"People say I have to keep a straight poker face all day long, and then somehow I can smile and greet people at the restaurant in the evening," he said, with good humor.
That's obviously a pleasant way for a professional tough guy to end the day.