By on December 14, 2017

Detroit Police Car

Four officers from the Detroit Police Department pleaded guilty to extortion charges this week, with another two being indicted, after receiving bribes from body shops looking for stolen and abandoned vehicles obtained by the city. Federal investigators have been looking into the scheme, which involves shops collecting thousands of dollars from insurance companies for unnecessary repairs, for well over a year.

The accused officers are believed to have reported stolen or abandoned vehicles to a single towing company, rather than police dispatch. From there, the towing service would pay them a $50 to $100 “finders fee” before notifying the car’s owner that it had been stolen and sustained unspecified damages. Fortunately, the towing service always knew of a repair shop that would “waive the deductible.”

The cars were then stripped so the claims adjuster could quote the vehicle for thousands of dollars in damages. 

Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t seem to have been particularly lucrative for the accused cops. While the amount varies between officers, most are believed to have pocketed between $500 and $6,000 via their arrangement with the towing company. Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor, told The Detroit News, “Even if you multiplied the amount by five, they just sold their careers for less than $30,000.”

“This is a classic case of benign corruption, at least that’s how officers can justify it to themselves,” he said. “They’re not being bribed to look the other way but the officers are putting a little cash in their pockets.”

Detroit police Chief James Craig said two additional officers are under internal investigation and could be fired for their involvement in the alleged extortion scheme, which the chief said was ongoing for as long as 12 years. The six individuals already charged were suspended in the fall of 2016.

Two collision shops in Wayne County are also currently being investigated. Those cases were unsealed after Detroit Deputy Police Chief Celia Washington was caught taking bribes in exchange for helping Grosse Pointe Shores towing mogul Gasper Fiore obtain a larger portion of a Detroit towing industry that totaled more than $2 million a year.

Washington was one of 18 individuals charged in a wide-ranging FBI investigation into municipal corruption. That probe focused on Fiore’s towing empire, Macomb County politicians pocketing bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Rizzo Environmental Services, and the Macomb County Public Works office.

The car stripping scheme is believed to be related to the broader public corruption scandal. While several of the officers who confessed are hoping for plea deals, the extortion charges could still yield them up to 20 years in prison, as well as $250,000 fines.

“The actions of these six officers illustrate a pattern of misconduct and an abuse of authority, which is in contrast to the vast majority of law enforcement professionals at the Detroit Police Department who serve each day with distinction and integrity,” said David Gelios, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office.

[Image: Sean Davis/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)]

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22 Comments on “Detroit Police Officers Confess to Car-stripping Scheme...”

  • avatar

    Dirty, Dirt bag cops have no place in our society. These guys are nothing more than penny annie thieves…if found guilty, throw the proverbial book at them and make sure they never wear a badge again…not even for a security company.

  • avatar

    I remember reading Josh Welton’s account of having a couple new Challengers stolen and stripped in Detroit. He alleged then that DPD was complicit in the stripping of them then. Good to hear something finally became of that.

  • avatar

    12 years eh?

    Well I guess that puts the theft of my 87 Oldsmobile in 2002 outside the window (stolen in Southfield, recovered in Detroit as a stripped husk).

    Not that anybody needed incentive to steal a vehicle that was on the “most stolen” list for so many years.

  • avatar

    Gosh, crooked cops. Imagine that!

  • avatar

    Towing companies are frequently just organized crime operations.

  • avatar

    I’m sure it is all a misunderstanding, because I heard this was actually an environmental program to get rid of gas guzzlers and increase metal recycling for a more sustainable world. All the money they earned for clearing the streets of these derelict cars was going to go the Greenpeace.

  • avatar

    It wasn’t always called “corruption”. Within the towing industry it was just understood “it takes money to make money”. And it wasn’t just cash handed over to your “friendly” cops for the most frequent and juiciest impounds/crashes, luxury cars, semis, buses etc. It was gifts of all sorts, or simply cars/pickups/sports cars/bikes and or parts/equipment/accessories from unclaimed cars/trucks, plus free tows/service/repairs for cop’s families and friends.

    At least that’s how things worked when I got into the auto body and tow industy back in the late ’80s. We didn’t think much of and I’m sure stuff like that happened in most business sectors, in some sort or an other.

    So things are different today, but that crap is still OK in D.C? Btw I attended a Christmas “benefit” dinner thrown by the highway patrol every Dec, exclusively for area towing companies, $200 a plate (in 1990, paid by my employer) and the luxury gifts and prizes given by the big towing companies to individual officers (by raffle) went on for hours… Nauseating.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, DM, in my experience, it is still the same. Even so, the most important targets are not the cops, they are the city councilmen. The money flows like sewage. I believe it is as corrupt as it has ever been. A tow company will be awarded the contract with the city. The award is made to the company that kicks back the most money to the councilmen. The same thing thing happens with trash companies, which are a total racket. Don’t get me started regarding developers with lucrative permitting decisions, “redevelopment” scams, zoning changes and other dirty deals. Money talks and city councilmen come cheap. If this is not happening in your city, count yourself fortunate. The cops are clean as a church hymn compared to the politicians.

  • avatar

    Towing may be the shadiest “legitimate” business in America.

    And these cops are mind-bogglingly dumb. Why would you risk a career with potential lifetime earnings of $10 million or more over the occasional $100 under the table?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s the kind of “crime” that’s real easy to get away with and car owners, insurance companies and honest towing companies have no real way knowing they were victimized, nor any real way of proving if they feel they were.

      Car owners can “request” a specific towing company at the scene of an accident, breakdown or theft recovery, and that’s how the normal tow (company) “rotation” gets bypassed, and the work diverted to a criminal operation, except the owners never had a choice.

      And I’m sure it’s more than the occasional $100. They’re likely doubling or tripling their salaries.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’d say refuse is equally corrupt. One of the outskirt burbs south of KC , Belton decided to contract with only 1 trash carrier, which was a relatively small, unknown co. , which I’m sure is owned by the mayor’s brother , or giving significant bribes to city council members.
    Shortly thereafter , the other carriers mysteriously stopped picking up trash, as the new contract doesn’t start until this new year. Oops, might-a- shoulda announced later in the year.

  • avatar

    thelaine has it. Most local [all] govmts are just kickback schemes.

    As far as towing goes, here in SoCal they usually just take your wheels and tires and tell you “the car was recovered stripped”.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    When I lived in Calgary, AB., the towing money went to the towing companies and the ticket money went to the City. The towing companies had a scheme, however: they’d tow as many illegaly-parked cars as they could but only deposit them a few blocks away so they could quickly come back for more. Knowing this I once found my ’88 Parisienne wagon five blocks away from where I’d parked it the night before and my friend once found his ( also ) Pontiac in the same industrial district. Both undamaged. Years later my then-girlfriend watched her car get towed at noon. I picked her up at 5:30 that afternoon and we drove to the impound lot, only to find that her car wasn’t there yet. I raised Hell but there was no record of her car. We went looking for it but couldn’t find it. It was there the next afternoon – with a 24-hour ‘storage’ charge on top of the parking fine and the towing charge. Whatta scam.

  • avatar

    So many scandals in the Detroit area, going back to the Coleman Young era, have to do with hauling and towing. During Young’s administration it was about contract to haul away sludge from the Detroit water treatment plant. The Fiore scandal in Macomb county is about garbage hauling.

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