Detroit Police Officers Confess to Car-stripping Scheme
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.
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