Detroit towing battle flares anew
The long-running battle over Detroit’s police towing operations rekindled this month after the city suspended three companies that allegedly have ties to towing magnate Gasper Fiore.
Three other firms the city says are linked to Fiore also have been barred from seeking contracts with the city.
Although Fiore’s name isn’t formally associated with any of the companies, Detroit officials allege he is the shadow owner. The people whose names are listed with the state as proprietors of the suspended and barred firms insist Fiore isn’t involved.
On Friday, Fiore’s ex-wife Joan Fiore filed a federal lawsuit against the city, seeking more than $75,000 in damages because she says one of the companies she owns, Javion & Sam’s 24 Hour Towing Service Inc., was suspended without cause. She insists her ex-husband, whom she divorced in 2013, has no interest in her company.
Deputy corporation counsel Chuck Raimi declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.
After Gasper Fiore was arraigned in federal court in June for his part in a Macomb County bribery scheme, the city suspended Boulevard & Trumbull Towing from the police towing rotation. Fiore’s attorneys have insisted he divested his interest in Boulevard & Trumbull in 2016.
Michigan State Police and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office also severed ties with Gasper Fiore, who is scheduled to be sentenced in August after pleading guilty last year to bribery charges.
City officials this month suspended Detroit tow companies Javion & Sam’s, Gene’s Towing and B&G Towing from the tow rotation after Detroit Inspector General James Heath wrote a letter to Mayor Mike Duggan alleging the firms were secretly owned by Fiore.
The city also prohibited three other tow firms it says are tied to Fiore from obtaining contracts: E&G, Troy Abans and City Wide.
In the May 7 letter, obtained by The Detroit News, Heath said he’s able to link Fiore to those companies based on wiretapped conversations he had with former Detroit police attorney and deputy chief Celia Washington, who pleaded guilty in January to accepting a bribe from the towing titan.
Transcripts of the wiretapped conversations, which had been sealed, were viewed by The News after Washington’s attorney Arnold Reed in December attached them as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss the case. The transcripts, which were only briefly in the public record, have since been resealed.
“Gasper Fiore advocated on behalf of Javion & Sam’s, Gene’s and B&G in connection with the bribe he paid to Celia Washington to receive favorable treatment,” Heath wrote. “These companies are linked to Gasper Fiore and Joan Fiore. The towing companies have overlapping business locations, employees and/or office space.”
Despite barring Fiore from police towing on the basis of his indictment and subsequent guilty plea, Detroit still leases 2121 Fort, a southwest Detroit facility that houses seven police units: the Abandoned Vehicle Task Force, Narcotics Prisoner Processing, Crime Scene Services, Biology, Forfeiture, Latent Prints, and Assets and Licensing.
A lab to test illegal drugs is housed in the building.
City officials say Fiore owns the facility, although the listed property owner is The Realty Company, which according to state records is owned Joan Fiore.
When asked if it’s prudent for the police department to store illegal drugs and operate units in a facility Detroit officials say is owned by a convicted criminal who’s been barred from doing other business with the city, Raimi said in a written statement: “The City will be moving out of 2121 Fort as soon as practicable.”
The city’s lease expires Dec. 31.
Joan Fiore, who also is listed with the state as the owner of Javion & Sam’s, on May 10 told the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners she is being unfairly punished, since her ex-husband is not involved with any of her companies.
“I was defamed by the city and the (police) department in the newspapers as still being married, and that my company’s being controlled by my former husband — as if a woman is not capable of being in business for herself,” she said. “I’ve been a single woman since 2013.”
Anthony Thomas told the police board he’s owned B&G Towing since 2000, and has been sole owner since 2011. He said he leases property from Joan Fiore’s The Realty Company.
“I wasn’t given notice of this suspension; I didn’t receive a phone call,” Thomas said. “My understanding was that the Board of Police Commissioners was to be included in such decisions. I’ve never been accused of any crimes.
“I’m out of business ... with no notice at all,” Thomas said. “It’s completely wrong.”
Although the police board oversees part of the city’s police towing operations, board secretary Gregory Hicks told Joan Fiore and Thomas the city has jurisdiction over the suspensions.
“We’d be happy to take a complaint, but the final resolve is to have the Law Department opine on this,” Hicks said. “The Law Department’s view is that these entities were part of a criminal enterprise. It’s not something we can necessarily get into the details here, because we weren’t even provided the details. The suspension list was even a surprise to us.”
The inspector general’s letter cites two conversations between Washington and Gasper Fiore as proof of his involvement with the companies in question.
“On April 28, 2016, Ms. Washington had a telephone conversation with Mr. Fiore in which she made sure he could comply with a deadline that she would be setting for the application for towing permits,” Heath wrote.
“Then in May 2016, Mr. Fiore had a telephone conversation with Joan Fiore in which he stated that Ms. Washington wanted an email sent to her personal email address that specified which towing rotations they wanted.
“Mr. Fiore directed Joan Fiore to instruct (their daughter) Jennifer Fiore to send Ms. Washington the desired police precinct rotations they wanted for their towing businesses,” Heath wrote.
“The email sent by Jennifer Fiore discussed B&T, Javion & Sam’s and B&G that currently had police rotations,” Heath wrote. “The email also requested that Ms. Washington add two additional Fiore towing companies E&G and Troy Abans.”
“I have significant concerns about these towing companies’ ability to act as responsible contractors based on (Fiore’s) guilty pleas and information contained in court filings,” Heath wrote.
In addition to the lease at 2121 Fort, Detroit police also used 7800 Dix, where the police Commercial Auto Theft Unit and other units were located until they were kicked out last year after the city stopped paying the lease and utility bills.
Paul Ott declined to comment because of the ongoing litigation. Ott is listed with the state as the owner of Gene’s Towing.