Officials in Detroit are looking at making continued changes to city towing rules after several federal corruption probes.
Mayor Mike Duggan told reporters Thursday that he’s asked the city’s police chief for a plan in two weeks to eliminate a decade-long practice of rotating towing duties to a list of preferred companies.
On Wednesday, search warrants were executed at offices in City Hall. Agents and state police also were seen at the homes of Councilman Scott Benson and Councilwoman Janeé Ayers. It was not immediately known if the ongoing probes are related to Detroit’s towing practices. The FBI did not provide details Wednesday about the search warrants.
Ayers’ name emerged several years ago in a bribery investigation involving towing magnate Gasper Fiore, according to The Detroit News. She has not been charged in that investigation.
A former high-ranking Detroit police official and about a half-dozen ex-police officers have been indicted in recent years for bribery in connection with towing contracts.
A decision was made in 2011-12 to not competitively bid towing contracts. A permit system was created and involved a rotation among “a preferential group” of companies, Duggan said.
Owners of stolen or impounded vehicles have to pay towing costs and storage fees before their vehicles are returned.
“It is a system fraught with potential for abuse,” Duggan said. “The amounts of money that are involved are just breeding potential for abuse.”
Since 2017, the city has terminated contracts with some companies and changed the practice where a company could find a stolen vehicle and then claim the tow work, Duggan said.
“We had evidence that it appears some of the towers were in cahoots with the car thieves,” he said. “After we stopped that practice, the car theft rate dropped significantly.”
Duggan said he will withhold judgment until he sees what develops from Wednesday’s searches, but added that no one has been charged.
“It’s never good when the Feds are delivering search warrants,” he said, adding that the FBI has not shared any details of their investigation with him.
In 2018, Fiore, of Grosse Pointe Shores, was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison for his role in the bribing of a suburban official for help with a municipal towing contract.
Former Detroit Deputy Police Chief Celia Washington was sentenced that year to a year and a day in prison in a corruption case related to towing contracts. Washington was accused of accepting at least $3,000 from Fiore.
Last month, Detroit Councilman Andre Spivey was charged in federal court with conspiracy to commit bribery and accused of accepting $1,000 from an undercover law enforcement agent in October 2018. The indictment also alleges that between 2016 and 2020, Spivey and “public official A” accepted more than $35,000 in payments to influence votes “concerning an industry under review by the council.”
In June, former Councilman Gabe Leland was sentenced in Wayne County Circuit Court to probation after pleading guilty to accepting an illegal $7,500 cash campaign contribution. Federal corruption charges were to be dismissed as part of Leland’s plea deal.
Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan.