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Detroit City Council upholds tow company bans

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Gasper Fiore

Detroit — The City Council voted Tuesday to uphold bans on several local towing companies and their owners from doing business with the city.

During a special session Tuesday, the council voted individually on appeals from tow companies and their owners who wanted back into the Detroit police towing rotation, after being suspended last year.

City officials in May 2018 suspended Detroit tow companies Javion & Sam’s, Gene’s Towing and B&G Towing from the tow rotation after former Detroit Inspector General James Heath wrote a letter to Mayor Mike Duggan alleging the firms were secretly owned by towing magnate Gasper Fiore.

Heath barred Fiore and Boulevard & Trumbull from doing business with the city for 20 years. He also debarred Fiore's ex-wife Joan Fiore, listed owner for Javion & Sons, and daughter Jennifer Fiore for 15 years each.

Also barred by Heath: Gasper and Joan Fiore's other daughter, Jessica Lucas, for 10 years; Paul Ott, Gene’s Towing, Inc. and City Wide Towing, Inc. for seven years; and Anthony Thomas and B&G Towing for seven years.

While Heath and other city officials have claimed in court filings and other official documents that the barred companies are secretly owned by Gasper Fiore, representatives of the firms insist Fiore is not involved in the ownership.

Ott and Thomas, not Gasper Fiore, are listed on state documents as the owners of the respective tow companies.

In response to council's vote, David Fraser, an attorney for Thomas and B&G Towing, said in a statement that members were "misled and misinformed" and vigorously denied that Fiore owns B&G.

"The inspector general’s office is not an independent investigatory body where facts matter, Fraser said. "Rather, it is a rubberstamp for those in positions of authority in the City. The disbarred parties provided thousands of pages of proof and witness testimony that Gasper Fiore has no ownership interest in the subject companies."

He concluded: "... I am not surprised by the outcome, as we have alleged from the beginning this was a sham proceeding with a predetermined outcome. The real proceedings are taking place in the Courts located in this City and the taxpayers continue to pay millions of dollars in legal fees over towing."

Fiore was barred from doing business with the city after he was indicted by federal authorities in a wide-ranging corruption investigation. Fiore in August pleaded guilty to bribery in Macomb County, and was sentenced to 21 months in prison. 

After Fiore was arraigned in federal court in June 2018 for his part in the bribery scheme, the city suspended Boulevard & Trumbull Towing from the police towing rotation. Fiore’s attorneys have insisted he divested his interest in Boulevard & Trumbull in 2016.

Michigan State Police and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office also severed ties with Fiore.

Seven City Council members attended Tuesday's special session. A two-thirds vote of the members present was required by the City Charter to overturn the Inspector General's recommendations.

The council voted on each recommendation to bar the companies individually, and then voted whether to uphold the number of years.

All of the recommendations were upheld.

Councilwoman Janee Ayers voted to uphold the bans, but voted against giving Fiore and Boulevard & Trumbull 20 years.

"I voted no because the same evidence was presented for (towers who were barred) for 15 years," Ayers said after Tuesday's special session.

Ayers added: "To have a debarment hearing is troubling, but that's why we have these checks and balances in place ... the IG did a great job."

Nicolas Bachand, who in the past has identified himself as Gasper Fiore's attorney, was present at Tuesday's meeting, but ignored questions from reporters afterward.

There are multiple investigations into Detroit's police towing operation, which for years was plagued by allegations of favoritism and corruption.

Because of the problems, Detroit police last year took over most of the city's towing, 
prompting an outcry from towers who said the decision would put them out of business. Craig promised to work with the towers to ensure they would get their share of jobs.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN