Ex-police official says she’s not guilty in towing case

George Hunter
The Detroit News

The former Detroit police legal adviser who was indicted in federal court as part of an ongoing towing scandal insists she isn’t guilty, and that she was cleared of wrongdoing following an internal police investigation.

Celia Washington was indicted Oct. 11 on federal conspiracy and bribery charges. The government accused her of taking cash bribes in exchange for helping an unnamed towing magnate circumvent rules that prohibit towing firms from having more than one company on the police towing rotation.

“It goes without saying that I’m deeply disappointed,” Washington said Monday during a press conference in the Southfield offices of her attorney Arnold Reed. “The facts will come out in court, and I look forward to defending my honor, defending my integrity and clearing my name.”

Reed said Washington was exonerated following a Detroit Police internal investigation into the department’s towing practices.

“Before this indictment came down, there was a thorough internal investigation into the policies and procedures of the towing operation, and Ms. Washington was cleared,” Reed said. “She was told she didn’t do anything wrong. Then, in a 360-degree turnaround, she was charged with a crime.”

In a letter Reed sent to Detroit’s corporation counsel Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, which Reed provided to reporters at Monday’s press briefing, the attorney claimed Detroit Police Chief James Craig personally told Washington she had been cleared of wrongdoing following the internal probe.

“At the conclusion of the investigation, Chief Craig advised that Ms. Washington had been exonerated of any alleged criminal activity or violation of department policy,” Reed wrote in the letter, dated Oct. 20. “Chief Craig also advised that had there been findings of criminality discover(ed) during the course of the investigation, they would be ‘turned over to the authorities.’ Chief Craig stated that he was ‘relieved’ that this was not the case.”

In the letter, Reed also asked city officials to turn over Washington’s personnel files, including evaluations, discipline records and the results of the internal investigation.

Hollowell said he would comply with any legal request for records.

“If Mr. Reed wants to file a motion for the production of a document which he says exists, then he’ll have to follow the Michigan court rules and rules of procedure like any other lawyer,” Hollowell said. “The city will respond depending on what gets filed under the watchful eye of a judge.”

Washington is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. Reed said she will plead not guilty.

“The only thing Ms. Washington is guilty of is trusting individuals she thought were her friends,” Reed said, adding that the indictment against his client is “fake propaganda to make Ms. Washington look as if she’s a criminal when she clearly is not.”

Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined Monday to comment on the ongoing case.

Prior to becoming the police department’s legal adviser and a civilian deputy chief, Washington was the attorney for the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, which oversaw the city’s police towing operations.

Washington’s indictment came four months after she resigned from the police department when it was learned she was being investigated by the FBI in connection with the federal towing corruption investigation.

Washington, 57, was the 17th person charged in the FBI probe that has focused on Detroit towing mogul Gasper Fiore; Macomb County politicians allegedly taking bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Sterling Heights trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services, and the Macomb County Public Works office.


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN