Tow owner sues Taylor mayor, state police

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The owner of a Metro Detroit towing company is suing the Taylor mayor and state police, claiming he lost business for speaking out about alleged corruption and became ensnarled in a federal investigation.

Shane Anders, who owns Star Towing and Recovery in Monroe as well as Area Towing & Recovery in Taylor, filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court, claiming Mayor Rick Sollars wanted to steer city towing contracts to Gasper Fiore — a towing magnate sentenced to federal prison last year in a bribery scandal.

Anders, in the lawsuit, is seeking at least $2.5 million on claims Sollars moved to keep his company from consideration in city contracts to favor Fiore and his towing firm.

Anders claims that in 2016, the city's police chief told him that Sollars warned if Anders' company didn't use Fiore's company for all heavy-duty tows, its contract would not be renewed. 

To keep the pact, Anders “reluctantly agreed to use Gasper Fiore’s company, B&T Towing, for heavy-duty tows," according to claims made in the Thursday filing.

Anders the following year appeared on a list of “target subjects” revealed in federal wiretap documents connected with a public corruption probe involving Fiore. The towing titan was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison in August for bribing politicians while building a lucrative towing empire across Metro Detroit.

Anders has not been charged with a crime, and last year the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan approved a request that he be allowed to state publicly that he was not a target or a subject of a federal criminal investigation, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit notes Anders stopped using Fiore's company after Fiore was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2017.

Sealed court records show FBI agents had wiretapped Fiore's phone three years ago and heard allegations involving Sollars and a lucrative towing contract.

The FBI wiretap affidavit The News obtained in 2017 that included probable cause to keep listening to Fiore's phone calls gained new relevance in light of FBI raids this year at Sollars' homes and Taylor City Hall.

Federal authorities have been investigating Sollars for racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering. They have also searched the home and office of a city contractor to determine if politicians pocketed bribes and kickbacks.

When Anders was interviewed by federal investigators, he told them about Fiore’s relationship with Sollars and was asked about Robert Dickerson, the mayor’s chief of staff, who has since resigned, the federal lawsuit states.

In early 2018, although the City Council approved Area Towing for a three-year contract, Sollars vetoed the resolution, because “Anders spoke out against and complained to city officials about being forced and directed to use Gasper Fiore for heavy-duty tows,” according to the suit.

An attorney for Sollars, who has not been charged with wrongdoing and maintains his innocence, could not be reached Monday night.

Anders’ suit also lists a Michigan State Police commander and trooper.

His Star Towing was contracted to conduct tows for the agency and was on a rotation list at the Monroe post, according to the document.

In 2015 and 2017, Anders was interviewed by MSP investigators regarding tickets he had allegedly given to state troopers to sporting events. He provided the names of those troopers; they were disciplined and his towing company was removed from the post rotation, the lawsuit claims. 

In an email to Anders, the filing argues a post commander cited “public opinions about his business practices,” including Area Towing and news stories about the Fiore investigation.

Anders and his attorney stressed he was not under investigation, but the commander “wrongfully assumed that Plaintiff Anders was involved in possibly unlawful or unethical conduct, and unfairly removed Plaintiff Star Towing from the non-preference tow rotation list.”

In a response, MSP said Anders' companies are on its "no-preference wrecker" lists.

"Mr. Anders’ towing companies remain on both our Metro Detroit and Monroe Post no-preference wrecker lists," Lori Dougovito said. "We deny the allegations made against the MSP in his lawsuit."