Ex-Detroit deputy chief arraigned in corruption scandal
Detroit – A former deputy Detroit Police chief was released on $10,000 unsecured bond Tuesday after being arraigned on federal conspiracy and bribery charges.
The arraignment of Celia Washington came two weeks after she was indicted in connection with a wide-ranging public corruption investigation and four months after The Detroit News identified her as a target of a federal investigation involving Detroit towing mogul Gasper Fiore and several Detroit cops.
Washington, flanked by about 10 supporters, said little during the brief court appearance. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.
Washington, 57, of Detroit also was ordered to undergo medical or psychological treatment or counseling – though the reason was not disclosed in court.
“She has taken the initiative at my advice to seek therapeutic counseling in an effort to help her deal with these false allegations,” defense lawyer Arnold Reed wrote in an email to The Detroit News. “She is very responsible and has a strong desire to take care of her No. 1 priority, which is her mental and physical health while these charges are pending.”
According to the indictment, Washington pocketed bribes in exchange for helping an unnamed towing mogul grab a bigger piece of a Detroit towing industry that totaled more than $2 million a year. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in federal prison.
Washington is the 17th person charged in a wide-ranging FBI investigation focused on three fronts: Fiore’s towing empire; Macomb County politicians pocketing bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Sterling Heights trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services; and the Macomb County Public Works office.
Washington resigned from the police department in June after police officials learned she was being investigated in connection with an ongoing probe of Fiore, who for years owned several companies that towed vehicles for the city, sources said.
Washington for years was the attorney for the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, which made decisions about the city’s tow operations. Washington did not have a direct hand in selecting which firms were chosen for towing rotations.
The indictment alleges a conspiracy involving Washington that ran from February 2016 until she resigned in June.
She accepted cash bribes while helping an unnamed towing company owner with permits and circumvent rules that prohibit a towing company owner from having more than one company in each police district or towing rotation, according to the indictment.
The towing company owner, who is not identified in the indictment, had controlling interest in multiple towing companies.
Washington would meet the towing mogul in Detroit to collect the cash bribes, the government alleges.
In February 2016, Washington met the towing owner and requested money; that same month, she pocketed at least $3,000 cash from the owner, according to the indictment.
Two months later, in April 2016, she talked with the owner to make sure the businessman would comply with a towing permit application deadline in Detroit, the indictment alleges.
The next month, the owner spoke with an associate and said Washington wanted an email sent to her personal address that specified which towing rotations the owner wanted in Detroit, prosecutors allege.
On June 2, Washington helped issue a towing rotation that violated city rules because the unnamed towing mogul had multiple companies in single police precincts, according to the indictment.
The next day, Washington called the owner and said she “did everything she could” to help the owner.
In June, her attorney told The News, “Ms. Washington had no power to change anything with regard to police-authorized towing. That was the responsibility of the police commissioners.”
In June, three police sources told The News several officers also were under federal investigation after they were recorded on wiretaps discussing illegal activity connected to Fiore’s towing operations.
Also in June, Fiore was arraigned in federal court on charges he participated in a widespread bribery conspiracy in Macomb County.
Fiore was indicted on charges he bribed Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds. The U.S. Department of Justice charged Fiore and Reynolds with multiple counts of bribery-related offenses in connection with a towing contract.
If convicted, Fiore could get 20 years in prison.