Six Detroit police officers have been suspended amid a federal investigation of towing practices involving stolen cars, with a handful of the officers scrambling to find lawyers Tuesday for help in the city's latest public corruption case, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
The FBI probe, sources said, involves allegations that police officers took bribes from collision shops and towing companies who paid the officers money in exchange for giving them work when they found stolen vehicles. One source said the going bribe rate in such deals is $500 – that's how much a collision shop pays a police officer who convinced the owner of a stolen car to send their car to a particular collision shop.
The officers have been suspended with pay, according to Michael Woody, director of the Detroit police department's media relations. It is not known if they will be criminally charged, he said.
Timothy Wiley, spokesman for Detroit's FBI office, would not offer specifics on the investigation, saying only: "The FBI Detroit Area Public corruption Task force has an ongoing investigation. We are working together with the Detroit Police Department's internal affairs."
The officers involved are scattered throughout the department. Mark Diaz, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association, said the suspended officers work in the 6th, 8th, 11th and 12th precincts. He said the officers were suspended for conduct unbecoming a police officer. He said the union has been in contact with a couple of the officers, who were not given specifics about the allegations. Diaz called the ambiguity unacceptable.
Willie Bell, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, said there are 20-plus companies authorized to handling towing in areas of the city. He said the companies are supposed to be tapped to tow vehicles based on a rotation.
He said allegations of improper conduct related to towing were steered to the department’s internal affairs section over the summer.
It’s unclear whether those allegations are connected to the federal probe.
The nature and length of the investigation is unclear.
But Woody said that the suspensions are not related to a prior narcotics investigation that led to the convictions of two Detroit police officers, David Hansberry and Bryan Watson, who were convicted of conspiracy in a jury trial for plotting fake drug busts with the help of drug dealers. Hansberry and Watson were accused of -- among other things -- stealing drugs that were seized during busts and then having dealers resell the drugs on the street and split the proceeds with them.
They will be sentenced in November and each face up to 20 years in prison.