Lawsuit alleges Fiore towing scam, racism by cops
Although former towing magnate Gasper Fiore is sitting in a federal prison cell after pleading guilty to bribing a public official, his legal troubles aren't over.
A federal lawsuit against Fiore, Hamtramck and Highland Park, police officers in those cities, B&G Towing of Detroit and its owner Anthony Thomas was filed last month alleging the cops launched false investigations that allowed the tow company to impound vehicles and charge exorbitant storage fees.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, also claims police officers hurled racial slurs at the Arab plaintiffs Danial Dabish, owner of Livernois Collision in Detroit, and Brian Abrou, who works in the collision shop.
Although Thomas, not Fiore, is listed as the owner of B&G Towing, Dabish's attorney Steve Haney said Fiore was the shadow owner of the company. In the lawsuit, Fiore is called a "principle" of B&G.
"We're going to serve Gasper with the lawsuit in prison," Haney said. "We found out he's in (the federal prison in Milan, Michigan). It's easy to serve someone when you know where they are."
The lawsuit alleges Highland Park police Sgt. James McMahon and Hamtramck officer Michael Stout conspired with Fiore and B&G "to unlawfully and unconstitutionally seize property and vehicles from the plaintiffs, and others, for the purposes of holding such property ransom in a civil conspiracy demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal towing and impound fees."
Haney said the cops falsified documents claiming businesses were being investigated for insurance fraud. The companies' vehicles would then be towed, and the officers would allegedly tell the owners they would drop the cases if the owners agreed to sign over their vehicles to B&G Towing. If not, the owners were charged high storage fees, Haney said.
Marli Blackman, spokeswoman for Highland Park, declined to comment, while Hamtramck attorney James Allen said: "We haven't been served with the (latest) lawsuit yet." Thomas did not return a phone call seeking comment, nor did Fiore's attorney Nicholas Bachand.
Fiore was sentenced Aug. 2 to 21 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to his part in a bribery scheme. Fiore also has cooperated with an ongoing investigation focusing on Macomb County politicians accepting bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Sterling Heights trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services, Fiore’s towing empire, and the Macomb County Public Works office.
Federal wiretaps captured phone calls and text messages between Fiore and McMahon on May 18, 2016. The wiretaps show McMahon asked for, and received, a metal culvert, a structure that allows water to flow under a road or tunnel, according to the court records.
The Aug. 9 lawsuit makes many of the same allegations as two other suits against Hamtramck, Highland Park, McMahon, Stout and the state police Michigan Auto Theft Prevention Authority. Fiore is not named in either of the other two lawsuits, while the state police unit is not part of the most recent suit.
One of the earlier suits was filed by Rasoul Joumaah, owner of Sam's Tire Shop in Hamtramck, his wife and shop employees; the other was filed by Sarmad Habib, owner of M&M Cars in Detroit.
Haney, attorney for the plaintiffs in all three lawsuits, said the Sam's suit was settled by all defendants; while the lawsuit involving M&M Cars was settled by Hamtramck.
"I expect Highland Park and McMahon to settle soon," Haney said, adding the settlement in the two suits netted more than $500,000.
In addition to the allegations about conspiring to improperly seize property, all three suits claim McMahon and Stout, who are members of COBRA, a multi-jurisdictional auto theft task force, repeatedly referred to Arabs as "towel heads," "sand (N-word)" and "camel jockeys."
"It is now known that defendants McMahon and Stout openly harbour (sic) racial animus toward Arab Americans, and have articulated their mission through the COBRA Auto Theft Unit to rid the community of 'these (expletive) Arabs,'" the suit claims.
The Aug. 9 lawsuit also claims the officers "falsified a probable cause affidavit" to obtain a search warrant and that McMahon ginned up a search warrant and affidavit that claimed Dabish was engaging in insurance fraud.
"Clearly, we believe there's a conspiracy between McMahon, COBRA and B&G Towing to fabricate criminal investigations so cars can be towed and impounded," Haney said. "Dabish has to pay $100,000 to get all his vehicles out of impound. If people don't pick up their vehicles, B&G sells them.
"There was no insurance investigation," Haney said. "It was all made up. McMahon was creating out-of-court settlements that didn't exist, fabricating case numbers, and telling people to sign an agreement that they'll give up their vehicles and the police wouldn't pursue the cases against them. But there were no cases. He just made them up out of thin air."
Although Haney said the investigations into Livernois Collision were conjured up by McMahon, three Detroit police sources last year told The Detroit News the company was being investigated by Detroit police and the FBI.
Fiore is also allegedly involved in that probe, in which Detroit officers were recorded on wiretaps discussing unspecified illegal activity connected to Fiore’s tow operations, the sources told The News.
Sources said the alleged Livernois Collision scheme involved funneling stolen vehicles with minimal damage to their shop. The vehicles would be stripped, and Livernois officials would then bill insurance companies to replace the parts, collect the money, and put the original parts back onto them.
Haney pointed out that neither Dabish nor any of his other clients were ever charged with crimes.
"They all have clean criminal records," Haney said. "If these guys did something wrong, they should have charged them. But they haven't been charged with anything."