Detroit towing ploy involved collision shops, insurance

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Six suspended Detroit police officers are accused of being part of an elaborate scheme involving collision shops which stripped stolen vehicles and collected thousands of dollars from insurance companies for unnecessary repairs, according to a police source familiar with the investigation.

Detroit police chief James Craig said more officers are expected to be suspended in the wake of a months-long federal and Detroit Police joint investigation.

The police source told The Detroit News the scheme started with officers whose job is to hunt for stolen and abandoned vehicles. After they found one, this is what would happen, according to the source:

Officers are supposed to alert dispatch, which assigns one of 23 authorized tow companies to pick it up, depending on where the vehicle was found and which of multiple firms were next on the rotation list.

But they didn’t alert dispatch; instead, they were calling one tow company to pick up the vehicles. The tow company usually paid the officers between $50 and $100 for each car towed.

Officers would look for vehicles with minimal damage, such as ignition switch damage or missing tires. The tow company would then tell the vehicle’s owner they’d found their stolen vehicle, which had unspecified damage, and that they worked with a collision shop that would waive the deductible for repairing it.

If the owner agreed to have the work done at that collision shop, employees then would strip vehicles of their motors, transmissions and other major parts without the owners’ knowledge. When a claims adjuster for the owner’s insurance company saw the stripped vehicle, thousands of dollars in damages would be assessed.

The collision shop owner would collect the money, put the parts back on the vehicle and do the minor repairs for the original damage before telling the owner to pick up the vehicle. The owners were never aware of the scheme.

Two collision shops in Wayne County are being investigated.

Craig said the six officers were suspended Tuesday with pay, pending the outcome of the investigation.

FBI spokesman Tim Wiley confirmed the investigation, but could not provide further details.

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

Craig told The News on Tuesday 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