It’s never good when federal agents execute search warrants, Mayor Mike Duggan said on Thursday amid a federal investigation of the city.
“We need to remember these are search warrants,” Duggan, commenting on a series of raids Wednesday targeting City Council members. “Nobody’s been charged. In lots of cases, when you do a search warrant, you gather the evidence, you find out there has not been a crime committed. In other cases, you do a search warrant, you gather evidence that makes your case.”
The FBI on Wednesday searched Detroit city hall and the homes of Councilwoman Janeé Ayers and Councilman Scott Benson amid a “public corruption” investigation across metro Detroit, according to Tim Waters, FBI special agent in charge in Michigan.
No one was charged in the investigation on Wednesday and Duggan said he was not aware of details of the investigation. “I have not heard about the FBI being tipped off. The feds have not shared with me any details of their investigation,” Duggan said, adding that it “appears to be focused on towing” based on a Detroit News story.
“Maybe my observation is that’s likely to be true,” Duggan said.
The towing industry has been connected to at least one other recent public corruption investigation in the area.
In 2018, towing mogul Gasper Fiore was sentenced to 21 months for paying $7,000 in cash bribes to a Macomb County official for help with a towing contract.
Though Fiore was convicted of bribing just one politician, prosecutors argued in court that he bribed many people over the years, including ex-Detroit Mayor Kilpatrick, former Detroit Deputy Chief of Police Celia Washington, other law enforcement officers and former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers.
More: Ex-Detroit deputy police chief Celia Washington cuts deal in Gasper Fiore towing scandal
Fiore was among 20 defendants targeted in a sweeping public corruption investigation in Macomb County that targeted pay-to-play schemes, including one that took down the Rizzo trash empire.
“This is the third federal investigation in four years that has arisen from this towing operation. In 2017, we had a deputy police chief in this department who was convicted and served a year in prison for taking bribes to change the rotation among the towers,” Duggan said. “We also have six police officers indicted for taking bribes for towing rotations.”
Duggan said the issue stems from a decision made roughly 10 years ago to “create a permit system with a preferential group of people in a rotation” that is susceptible to potential abuse.
“I’ve asked Chief (James) White, in two weeks, to bring me a plan to eliminate this towing rotation practice once and for good and he’s in full agreement that’s the next thing we need to do,” Duggan said. “I’m going to do my part and deal with this towing rotation system, if that does indeed turn out to be what this is about, so that we aren’t, four years from now, having to deal with any more investigations because it just isn’t good for the city.”
The city of Detroit in recent years has cracked down on towing companies with questionable business practices that seek to do business with the city.
Detroit pays private tow companies to tow cars that are booted by the parking department. Private towers also can be hired for police purposes. They tow vehicles for evidence, remove abandoned cars, recover stolen vehicles and perform other duties.
Since 2017, eight tow companies have been removed or suspended from the police department’s list of companies permitted to tow for the city for violating city policies, according to the Detroit Police Department.
Ayers and Benson are up for reelection this November. Ayers was the top vote-getter for the at-large council seat in the primary election earlier this month. She’s slated to face off against Coleman Young II, Mary Waters and Nicole Small in the general election. Benson, who represents District 3, moved on to the general election without a primary challenger.
In addition to searching the council members’ homes, FBI agents also searched the home of Benson’s chief of staff, Carol Banks. FBI spokeswoman Mara Schneider confirmed that agents searched the home of Ayers’ chief of staff, Ricardo Silva’.
The searches came less than a month after federal prosecutors charged Councilman Andre Spivey with conspiracy to commit bribery. Spivey’s lawyer last month said that the councilman has been cooperating with federal authorities for more than a year.
In June, former Detroit Councilman Gabe Leland was sentenced to 2½ years probation for state misconduct in office. Leland pleaded guilty in May to a felony for misconduct in office and resigned from Detroit City Council. The former council member had accepted $7,500 campaign contributions in cash, a violation of the law.
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