Detroit: Towing company swiped cars in elaborate scheme

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit officials claim a local towing company is part of an “elaborate” stolen vehicle scam involving a Highland Park police officer and a former attorney for towing magnate Gasper Fiore.

A 61-page counter-complaint filed in U.S. District Court by the city on Sept. 11 — a response to a July lawsuit by Detroit towing firm Nationwide Recovery Inc. — claims the towing company and its attorney orchestrated the theft of vehicles, which were towed to Nationwide’s east-side lot.

The city also alleges the unnamed Highland Park police officer did not fill out forms to alert people their stolen vehicles had been recovered. After time passed, the owners were then forced to pay exorbitant storage fees when they finally tracked down their vehicles.

The allegations mark the latest twist in an ongoing scandal involving Detroit’s multimillion-dollar towing operations.

“It is corruption on a wide scale,” the city’s retained 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.

“The allegations ... are only the tip of the iceberg,” added Acho of the Livonia law firm Cummings, McClorey, Davis and Acho. “This case involves an elaborate and wide-ranging scheme of fraud, deception, criminal conduct and dishonesty by ... Nationwide Recovery Inc. and (other) defendants.”

After Fiore was indicted in federal court in May for his alleged role in a separate Macomb County bribery scheme involving waste management company Rizzo Environmental Services, Detroit officials suspended Fiore’s companies from doing business with the city.

A month later, Nationwide was also suspended. The company sued the city, claiming it was removed from the towing rotation without just cause.

“Nationwide has not received any written or verbal notification from the city explaining the basis for depriving Nationwide of its 2016 tow permit,” the company said in its suit.

City officials said in their counter-complaint Fiore has an interest in Nationwide, although he is not listed as being associated with the company.

Nationwide’s attorney, Marc Deldin — who formerly represented Fiore’s Boulevard and Trumbull Towing — also is accused in the city’s filing of “assisting in the perpetration of frauds committed against the City of Detroit.”

Deldin told The Detroit News in a written statement Monday: “Nationwide Recovery is in the right. The city hired an outside law firm for two reasons: first, the city is rightfully concerned about what it did to Nationwide; second, the career attorneys that work for the city’s law department would never put their name on the pile of garbage that the city calls its ‘counterclaim.’

“As to the claims against me, you know that you are doing the right thing when the City of Detroit sues you for being an effective advocate for your client.”

Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell declined to comment.

The city in its filing said the Highland Park police officer was “connected to many of the vehicles” that were allegedly stolen and towed by Nationwide. The officer, assigned to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Auto Theft Recovery task force, has not been charged.

“The Highland Park Police Department refused to provide any information to the Detroit Police Department about this officer,” the city’s filing said.

The city claims the Highland Park officer was not filing paperwork to notify people their stolen vehicles had been recovered by Nationwide. The vehicles would sit in the company’s lot for an extended period.

“These excessive delays benefited (Nationwide) because storage fees continue to rapidly accrue for each day the vehicle sits in the lot,” the city said.

Highland Park spokeswoman Marli Blackman said the city “can’t comment on any litigation or ongoing investigation.”

Detroit officials said in the filing that issues with Nationwide began in 2007, when Hussein Hussein, owner of MetroTech Collision in Corktown, “was criminally charged for his involvement in the theft of a stolen motor vehicle.”

Hussein’s brother, Louay Hussein, offered to provide Detroit police “information on similar crimes involving other individuals in exchange for leniency with respect to his brother.”

The city agreed to the deal and the charges against Hussein Hussein “were either dropped or reduced,” according to the court filing.

In 2016, Louay Hussein purchased an interest in Nationwide, the city said, adding the company since 2010 has been associated with Fiore, whom the city said engaged in “fraudulent and criminal conduct.”

“Since (2010), the activities of Nationwide Recovery have become suspect and have been the subject of investigation by the Detroit Police Department,” the city said.

According to the city, Nationwide, the Hussein brothers and Deldin “have engaged in criminal conduct and conspiracy to defraud the City of Detroit and its citizens by orchestrating a scheme (in which they) participated in the theft of motor vehicles.”

The filing added: “For at least a year, Nationwide Recovery has had the reputation of recovering stolen vehicles within the City of Detroit at a suspiciously alarming rate under highly questionable circumstances.”

In May 2016, the city said members from the Detroit Police Commercial Auto Theft Unit arrested a car thief, who dropped his cellphone. A sergeant found text messages to Louay Hussein, alerting him to where stolen vehicles were parked, the city claims.

“Although the text message confirmed many ... suspicions of Louay M. Hussein’s involvement in criminal activity, (police) concluded there was not enough to pursue criminal charges,” the city said in its filing.

Police continued monitoring Nationwide and found “that stolen vehicles were recovered shockingly quickly, sometimes before they had even been reported stolen,” the city said.

The city’s counter-complaint referenced an FBI investigation into Detroit’s towing operations, which is separate from the internal DPD investigation that resulted in six Detroit officers being suspended.

The city also claims when police inspected Nationwide’s offices, the company could not provide paperwork for some of the vehicles parked in its lot on Lycaste on Detroit’s east side.