Detroit’s big tow

While Detroit is focused on the upcoming Kilpatrick vs. Hendrix showdown and the ongoing budget wrangling, problems with the city’s towing contracts are slipping under the radar for most Detroiters.

A report released Monday by Auditor General Joe Harris says a city contractor will rake in an extra million over the next decade by charging the city too much rent on the police evidence impound lot and hitting vehicle owners with excess impound fees.

Monday’s audit, the fifth of eight reports on city towing contracts, covers vehicles towed by police to process for evidence.

The purpose of the audit was to determine if the 2001 lease for the police evidence lot was properly obtained, if the price was fair, if lease-required improvements were being made, if the management contract for the lot had been properly awarded and if the owners of the vehicles were charged appropriate fees.

Harris and his team say the police department’s Management Services Bureau awarded contracts in every part of the evidence-towing operation to companies owned by Gasper Fiore, who also owns seven of the 30 towing companies with city contracts.

The lease on the lot, the report says, wasn’t competitively bid before being awarded to Fiore’s Boulevard & Trumbull Towing Co. And the city never entered into a proper management agreement with Gene’s Towing, another Fiore business that’s been managing the lot without a contract for the last four years.

The lease for the evidence lot, according to the report, overstates its size by almost 9,000 square feet. Since the rent on the 10-year lease is determined by lot size, that adds up to $65,000 a year more than the price would be if the actual footage were used.

The city’s not the only one taking a hit in this towing operation. In a review of 11 invoices, Harris’ team found that the owners of impounded vehicles had been collectively overcharged $2,000 in storage fees, even in instances when police officers had asked that the fees be waived.

Previous reports by Harris and his team found that all aspects of the system to tow abandoned vehicles were riddled with problems, from the way jobs are awarded to contractors to the disposition of vehicles after they’ve been towed. Some towers were awarded a disproportionate number of contracts, and the same businesses were called for work more often than other authorized towers in the department’s pool.

Coincidentally (maybe not), Harris identified Fiore in the earlier findings as the contractor who was favored in towing contracts and assignments.

It’s worth noting that in the past year, Fiore has donated $40,000 to the Allen Brothers Political Action Committee, which has in turn contributed money to a couple of folks you may have heard of — Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit city councilmembers Ken Cockrel Jr., Sharon McPhail, Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, Wayne County Sherriff Warren Evans and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, among others, have all received campaign contributions from the Allen Brothers PAC this year.

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