Feds: Fiore a prolific bribe-payer since Kilpatrick era

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Gasper Fiore

Detroit — Businessman Gasper Fiore happily bought politicians with stacks of $100 bills so the multimillionaire could boost his bank account while robbing residents of an honest government, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

The portrayal was included in a federal court filing ahead of Fiore's sentencing in the Macomb County corruption scandal. The filing charted Fiore's transformation from a serial bribe payer into a powerful witness who started cooperating with the government after his phone was tapped by investigators targeting politicians, including Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland.

The extent of Fiore's cooperation is a secret but is outlined in a sealed federal court filing that one legal expert said should concern Leland and others linked to an ongoing public corruption investigation. Earlier this year, prosecutors warned the investigation likely will lead to more people being charged with crimes in federal court. 

"This is a way to send a message," said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “The government doesn’t want to tip off targets of the investigation in case they are still trying to engage in an undercover activity or negotiate with them."

The government's sentencing memo Thursday also served to counter an earlier portrait offered by Fiore's lawyer, who portrayed the Grosse Pointe Shores business mogul as a hard-working family man and generous civic leader humbled by having bribed Macomb County politicians.

Fiore is a prolific bribe payer dating at least to the administration of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the towing titan kept bribing politicians even though he knew it was illegal, prosecutors said.

"Investigations by the FBI over the past two decades revealed that there was virtually no public official whose palms Fiore wouldn’t try to grease if there was something in it for him or his businesses," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Bullotta and David Gardey wrote. 

Kwame Kilpatrick

Fiore, 57, is a dominant figure in the Metro Detroit towing industry and a thread running through several FBI public corruption investigations, including the Kilpatrick racketeering probe. He is arguably the highest-profile person ensnared in a Macomb County corruption scandal that has led to federal charges against 20 contractors and public officials.

The former owner of Boulevard and Trumbull Towing will be sentenced Aug. 2 by U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland. 

The sentencing memo filed Thursday reads like Fiore's greatest hits of palm greasing and details the exploits of a powerful, wealthy businessman who avoided arrest until he bought Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds for $7,000.

Dean Reynolds

"Fiore bribed public officials in Metro Detroit for many years, persisting unfettered by the prison sentences of those around him whom he paid off," the prosecutors wrote. "Given this, he has richly earned a sentence of 21 months imprisonment."

The trail of bribes outlined by the government includes a 2010 revelation. That's when a high-level Wayne County Sheriff's Department official told the FBI that Fiore was paying deputies $50 for every towing referral.

The next year, the spouse of a Fiore employee described how the businessman used her husband to funnel straw campaign donations to Kilpatrick's re-election campaign.

Kilpatrick's right-hand-man, government official Derrick Miller, told the FBI that Fiore got preferential treatment in city towing matters because he financially supported Kilpatrick.

Fiore gave an envelope full of $100 bills to a Kilpatrick political advisor to pay Kilpatrick's election workers.

"Fiore even provided a car to then-City Councilwoman Monica Conyers," the prosecutors wrote.

Conyers was sentenced to 37-months in prison in 2010 after pleading guilty to accepting at least $6,000 for her deciding vote in a 2007 sludge-hauling contract.

"Despite seeing the former mayor and his associates receive lengthy prison sentences for bribery, Fiore continued on, undeterred," prosecutors wrote.

Detroit Council Member Gabe Leland

By 2016, the FBI was tapping Fiore's phone and agents listened to conversations that focused on Leland, who has been accused in a civil lawsuit of trying to trying to extort $15,000 from a Detroit businessman.

That businessman, Robert Carmack, says he wore a secret recording device for the FBI after alleging Leland tried to extort $15,000 from him. A second businessman sued Leland on Monday, claiming he demanded more than $5,000 in free club access, drinks and food in exchange for help in a dispute with city officials.

In the Fiore case, an FBI wiretap revealed he was bribing Deputy Detroit Police Chief Celia Washington to get favorable treatment with new towing rotations.

Washington confessed she received $4,000 cash from Fiore.

"She also stated that Fiore attempted to bribe her a second time, but that she refused to accept the second envelope of cash," prosecutors wrote. "She also admitted that Fiore paid for drinks at her birthday party. A receipt from the purchase established that Fiore paid over $600, just months before Washington’s oversight of Fiore’s towing rotations."

Washington was sentenced earlier this year to 12 months in federal prison.

"For over a decade, Gasper Fiore has been an enemy of honest government in Detroit," prosecutors wrote. "His offense here is yet another example of his trading cash for contracts and corrupting an otherwise fair process.

"In light of what the city of Detroit endured under Mayor Kilpatrick, what is required here is a sentence that is sufficient to deter others who might, like Fiore, want to continue the pay-to-play way of life," prosecutors added. "A less-than-substantial sentence would send the wrong message to other businessmen and would-be Gasper Fiores."


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