DETROIT – Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said it’s “just plain nonsense” that he knowingly outed the identity of a confidential FBI informant who was wearing a wire for federal officials in a corruption probe.
“I would never have done anything to undercut their efforts, and any suggestion in today’s story that I did is just plain nonsense,” Duggan said Tuesday afternoon (May 31).
Duggan called the noon briefing after a story in the Detroit News that linked him to a series of events that led to the informant’s identity coming out. According to the story, Duggan learned about the informant’s identity from former Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey, who was recently sentenced in connection with the federal probe.
Duggan said Tuesday that he didn’t know the informant was working with the FBI.
“I have never disclosed the identity of anyone I have known to to be a confidential source, in my life,” Duggan said. “I would not do that. I did not know there was any confidential source involved in this case.”
Duggan ran down the timeline of the Detroit towing scandal, starting with what he called a “lax permit rotation system” established by the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners in 2011.
“They did it on a no-bid basis so that towers in this city got permits without bidding, and these permits are extremely lucrative,” Duggan said. “Not only do you make the money from the tows, but you can make hundreds of dollars a day on storage, and as people in the city know, when their cars are towed, it’s not unusual to have several hundred or thousands of dollars in bills by the time you get them back.”
Duggan said the process was supposed to work like this: All the towers with permits -- typically around 20 at any given time -- were supposed to rotate and receive contracts in order. So, for example, if there were 20 permitted towers, each one would receive every 20th contract when their turn came up.
“For years, dishonest towers have found ways to break the rules to get tows much more frequently, and it is a huge risk to the Detroit Police Department, because when you think about this, our officers are out there,” Duggan said. “When they arrest somebody for drunk driving, the car has to be towed. They come to the scene of an accident, the cars have to be towed. They find a stolen car, the car has to be towed. If an individual officer phones a tower directly to have them pick it up, the city doesn’t pay the bill, you do, and so there’s no central process.”
Duggan said towers have found ways to get around the process for years.
In 2017, federal officials indicted six police officers for taking bribes to give towing contracts out of the rotation.
“The thing that hit us the hardest in 2017 was when Deputy Police Chief Celia Washington was indicted by the feds on a tour rotation issue, and she and Gasper Fiore, a tower, were indicted and convicted,” Duggan said.
The mayor said federal officials had Fiore on a wire tap and got Washington through recorded phone calls, leading to the conviction of both. When that happened, then-Detroit police Chief James Craig decided he was going to rid the department of dishonest towers, Duggan said.
“What he did was he himself started several investigations on all officers within the department,” Duggan said. “Then, he took an assistant chief, by the name of James White (now the Detroit police chief), and put him in charge of finding a new towing system and investigating the existing companies.”
Duggan said the city brought in its “best attorney,” Chuck Raimi, from the City Law Department, to back the efforts to rid the department of corruption. Raimi is named in the Detroit News article as someone Duggan told of the FBI informant’s identity.
Duggan said officials set up parallel investigations.
“The feds do a really good job of getting the person who took the bribe,” Duggan said. “Our job is to make sure the dishonest towers are gone so there’s no bribes in the future. So we set out to rid the department of any dishonest towers. That means we investigated the towers. DPD investigated towers for excessive charges, improper rotations, and the like.”
Duggan said he and Craig went to the Board of Police Commissioners and said they wanted to end the no-bid permit process. The Board wasn’t willing to end it, believing the problem was dishonest towers.
“To their credit, the Board of Police Commissioners in 2017 terminated several towers,” Duggan said. “That created a storm of controversy and litigation, in which the towers came back and sued. To me, this is the most misleading aspect of today’s story. To read the story, you would think the feds were doing all the investigating and Detroit had no responsibility except to stay out of the way. The fact of the matter is, the Detroit Police Department and the Detroit Law Department were doing our own efforts, very diligently, to get rid of these towers.”
He said following the termination of several towers, Detroit was embroiled in litigation, and as investigations continued, city officials became concerned that there wouldn’t be enough capacity in the system after all the dishonest towers were removed.
Craig and Duggan went to the Board of Police Commissioners and said DPD needed to have its own towing operation so it wouldn’t be dependent on others, according to the mayor.
“Again, the police commissioners stepped up, and in 2018, the Board of Police Commissioners authorized DPD to run its own towing operation,” Duggan said. “Again, huge controversy, huge litigation from the towers, and again, Chuck Raimi, representing the Detroit Police Department, succeeded in that case.”
Duggan said the biggest surprise in the case came during the spring of 2021.
“Andre Spivey contacted me to say, and I never had any hint this was coming, he said, ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake,’” Duggan said. “He said, ‘I got in financial trouble. I borrowed a large amount of money from a tower.’ He told me the tower -- it was a tower we knew very well from our investigations and our litigation. He says, ‘I meant to pay him back and I didn’t. The feds have us on a wire. I expect us to get indicted soon.’ (He said) that, ‘If this was just me, none of my colleagues were involved. I’ve confessed all of this to the feds. But my attorney’s trying to work on a cooperation agreement. I’m not sure that it’s going to work, but I know what a shock this is going to be to the city after the Leland case, and I wanted you to know that this is about to come out.’
“Like most people in the city, I never saw this coming from Andre Spivey -- minister, strong family, and never seeing any sign of this. I almost didn’t know what to say, but what he had told me was he had a dishonest tower who had paid him off. Andre Spivey never said a word about a confidential source -- nothing like that. I walked out of that conversation believing that I had just been told that I have a city councilman who has taken a bribe from a dishonest tower.”
Duggan said if anyone had suggested a confidential source was involved, he wouldn’t have said a word.
“The suggestion in today’s Detroit News is that the mayor of the city should be told about bribery and a dishonest tower and not say anything,” Duggan said. “I don’t believe that. I was a prosecutor for three years. When I learn of a crime, I believe it’s my responsibility to act, and I did exactly what I should have done. I reached out and advised the Detroit Police Department of what I learned. I reached out and advised Chuck Raimi and the Law Department of what I learned, because both of them had active investigations and litigations with this tower, and we needed to make sure that this individual would not be able to continue doing business.
“But then we needed to be able to do something further, and we decided that this was time. I knew the public in this town was pretty weary of all these charges, and that when the Spivey charge came out, there was going to be the question, ‘Is this ever going to end?’ So I laid out a plan with the team that we would get the Board of Police Commissioners to finally eliminate the no-bid towing permits. We worked intensely on a plan to do that.”
Duggan said the Spivey indictment happened on July 28, 2021. Six weeks later, the Board of Police Commissioners voted to eliminate the no-bid permitting process, he said.
“We were spending our time working on that,” Duggan said. “We weren’t sitting around gossiping. We were doing what we believed we should be doing for the city of Detroit, and I want to be very clear on this: No one to this day from any federal agency has ever reached out to me and suggested that I did anything that was wrong. I’ve not heard a word from them.”
During his time as a prosecutor, Duggan said he learned when to back off if federal officials informed him of an undercover operation. He said when an individual was identified as a confidential informant, he respected that.
“Nobody from any federal agency ever suggested to me that this tower had become a confidential source, or I would have honored that,” he reiterated.
Duggan said he told his management team because its members were actively engaged in developing the plan to get rid of the no-bid towing process.
“We were all working on this,” Duggan said. “None of us thought the name of a dishonest tower was anything confidential. There were people internally who knew the name, but that wasn’t our focus. At no point did we ever disclose it to the public.
“I was not focused on the confidentiality because I never had any reason to believe that the feds considered them confidential. If I had, I would have handled it differently.”
Duggan said he thought the situation between Spivey and the FBI informant was similar to the one that led to Fiore and Washington being indicted.
“I thought that they had been -- just like Gasper Fiore, who got caught on a wire tap by the feds and got Celia Washington -- I assumed they had gotten this tower on a wire tap and gotten Andre Spivey,” Duggan said. “Nothing Spivey said suggested to me that it was anything different than that.”
You can watch Duggan’s full briefing below.