Detroit officials accuse a Highland Park police officer of helping orchestrate an elaborate stolen vehicle scam, ramping up a legal battle over alleged corruption that involves cops, tow yards and collision shops.
The unnamed officer is referenced in a Sept. 11 counterclaim filed by Detroit in response to a lawsuit by tow company Nationwide Recovery Inc. over the city’s August decision to suspend the company from doing business with Detroit.
In the filing, Detroit attorneys claim the officer helped Nationwide steal vehicles, which were towed to the company’s yard. The city also accuses the officer of helping the company rack up exorbitant storage fees by failing to file paperwork letting owners know their vehicles had been recovered.
Detroit officials claimed in their court filing that Highland Park police are not cooperating with their investigation into the officer. Highland Park spokeswoman Marli Blackman said she cannot comment on ongoing litigation or investigations.
Detroit’s counterclaim comes in the wake of multiple lawsuits that accuse Highland Park police officer James McMahon of illegally seizing people’s property and forging a court document.
The civil rights lawsuits also claim McMahon and his partner, both white, referred to the Arab-Americans whose property was seized as “towel heads” and “camel jockeys.” McMahon has not been charged with a crime.
Besides the unnamed Highland Park officer, Detroit’s filing accuses Nationwide attorney Marc Deldin, who formerly represented Detroit towing magnate Gasper Fiore, of being part of the alleged stolen vehicle scheme. City officials said in their filing that Fiore is connected to Nationwide, although he’s not listed as the owner.
“It is corruption on a wide scale,” Detroit attorney Ronald Acho wrote in the filing. “The activities are so complex and involved that the City of Detroit does not yet know the full extent of the illegal activities.”
In a separate case, Fiore was indicted in federal court as part of a Macomb County bribery scheme involving waste management company Rizzo Environmental Services.
After Fiore’s indictment, Detroit officials in July suspended his companies from doing business with the city.
Fiore’s attorney Nicholas Bachard did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.
Three federal lawsuits filed in May and June by Detroit firms Livernois Collision, Sam’s Tires and M&M Cars allege McMahon and other officers conducted illegal raids on the businesses and their owners’ homes, and improperly seized their property while working as part of the COBRA car theft task force made up of police in Highland Park, Hamtramck and Ecorse.
“The COBRA unit was conducting raids of mainly immigrants’ homes and businesses, taking cash, jewelry, televisions and hundreds of vehicles,” said Steven A. Haney, attorney for the plaintiffs. “They would conduct these seizures under the guise of some bogus criminal investigation, never file any criminal charges and then not return the property.”
Haney, who formerly handled asset forfeitures for Michigan State Police and was a drug prosecutor in Jackson County, said his clients’ vehicles were seized under Michigan’s Omnibus Forfeiture Act, which forbids forfeiting property without a conviction.
“In exchange for the return of the vehicles, the tow yard would make these people pay $1,000 cash per car,” Haney said.
Also named in Haney’s three civil lawsuits are Hamtramck Detective Michael Stout — McMahon’s partner in the COBRA unit — and Hamtramck Police Chief Anne Moise.
Hamtramck police officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Haney claimed McMahon created a false out-of-court settlement agreement in which the owner of M&M Cars agreed to relinquish ownership of his seized property.
“McMahon claims this ‘agreement’ settles the civil ... forfeiture case listed as Wayne County Circuit Court Case No. 15-8992,” Haney said. “There is no such case and never was. He fabricated a case for the purposes of drafting an ‘out of court agreement.’”
In one of the suits, Haney claims Hamtramck police misplaced cash that was seized from Sam’s Tires owner Rasoul Joumaah.
“The police department told me they can’t find Mr. Joumaah’s money,” Haney said. “He had $35,000 in his house, money from his tire business, but they only tabulated $4,000. But they couldn’t locate the cash.
“I asked the city attorney where the money was, and he said he didn’t know,” Haney said. “He said it was in an account somewhere, but procedurally, they should have put it in an evidence bag.”
Haney wrote in the Livernois Collision lawsuit: “McMahon and Stout openly harbor significant racial animus toward Arab Americans, and have articulated their mission through the COBRA Auto Theft Unit to rid the community of ‘these (expletive) Arabs.’”
Livernois Collision is the subject of a separate Detroit police and federal investigation, according to three Detroit police sources. Fiore is also allegedly involved in that probe, in which Detroit officers were recorded on wiretaps discussing unspecified illegal activity connected to Fiore’s tow operations, the sources told The Detroit News.
Sources said the alleged Livernois Collision scheme involved funneling stolen vehicles with minimal damage to their shop. The vehicles would be stripped, and Livernois officials would then bill insurance companies to replace the parts, collect the money, and put the original parts back onto them.
Six Detroit police officers were suspended last year as part of the investigations, which are ongoing.
Haney said he’s aware of the investigations into his client, Livernois Collision owner Danial Dabish.
“I understand the issues with the investigations into Mr. Dabish, but at this point I’ve not been notified that he’s facing any criminal charges,” Haney said.