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Six Detroit cops suspended in towing probe by FBI

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Six Detroit police officers were suspended Tuesday amid an FBI probe into alleged widespread towing corruption in the police department.

A police source familiar with the investigation said the suspended officers are accused of taking bribes from a tow company owner in exchange for funneling work, including towing stolen cars, to the firm.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig would not confirm the details of the investigation, but said the officers are expected to be indicted soon. He added that more officers could be suspended.

“It’s still an active investigation,” he said. “This investigation has been going on for some time, and we have our own internal investigation which is ongoing.”

The six officers have been suspended with pay, pending the outcome of the investigation, Craig said.

When a vehicle needs to be towed because it was involved in a crime or was found abandoned or stolen, police officers are supposed to rotate jobs to the 23 tow companies authorized to remove vehicles for the police. Different companies are assigned specific areas in the city.

But the police source told The Detroit News the six suspended officers allegedly were paid by one tow company owner to bypass the other firms on the list.

“The FBI Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force has an ongoing investigation, and we’re working in partnership with the DPD internal affairs,” FBI spokesman Tim Wiley said.

Detroit Police Officers Association president Mark Diaz said the officers were suspended for conduct unbecoming an officer, but said he didn’t have any further details.

The controversies surrounding the police towing operations have been well-documented. The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, which oversees towing operations, struggled for years to institute new rules that were fair to all tow companies that do business with the city, after claims of cronyism and corruption surfaced.

Whenever towing was discussed at police board meetings, lawyers for tow companies and owners of towing firms often packed the room.

Board chairman Willie Bell said there recently were complaints about the towing process which were being investigated by the police department’s internal affairs unit.

“I’m pleased DPD internal affairs looked into it,” he said. “We just renewed the towing process for the tow companies. This has been a controversial point for many years now. We try to be fair to all the companies.”

Board vice chairman Ricardo Moore added: “We have solid tow rules in place, but if a member changes the rules to benefit themselves, no one is safe.”

In May 2013, the City Council voted to nearly triple its towing fee, from $75 to $215. That doesn’t cover storage.

Craig said he was troubled by the accusations against his officers.

“We take this alleged criminal misconduct seriously,” he said. “I’ve always said: It’s troubling when officers make decisions to commit crimes. It tarnishes not just our department, but our entire profession.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN