Feds armed with secret video, wiretaps in tow scandal

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Federal corruption prosecutors are armed with secret video recordings, a “significant number” of wiretaps, text messages and other evidence against a former deputy Detroit Police chief accused of pocketing bribes.

Prosecutors described the types of evidence against Celia Washington in a court filing Thursday, explaining her defense lawyer needs additional time to review extensive discovery materials collected during a complex criminal case.

The evidence includes a “significant number of intercepted phone calls” and text messages, audio and video recordings made by cooperating individuals and an undercover federal agent, tax returns, witness interviews and bank records, according to the filing.

The filing comes three weeks after Washington was indicted on federal conspiracy and bribery charges. She is scheduled to stand trial Dec. 19 and if convicted, Washington faces up to 10 years in prison.

According to the indictment, Washington, 57, of Detroit, 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. The towing titan is not named in the indictment but city lawyers, in a separate court filing, identified the businessman as Grosse Pointe Shores towing mogul Gasper Fiore.

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.

The indictment alleges a conspiracy involving Washington that ran from February 2016 until she resigned.

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.”

Also 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.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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