Fbi makes arrests in 'pirate towing' scheme involving miami police
Posted on March 23, 2015 8:00 PM EST
When people are involved in a car accident, and the police offer to call a tow truck driver, they don’t expect to help fund a “pirate towing” scheme, but that is exactly what has been happening in Miami.
The FBI has taken down what agents are calling a “pirate towing” racket, and have arrested four tow truck operators – J. Tello, R. Martin Cruz, R. Alfaro, and M. Perez, along with two Miami police aids. The defendants are facing bribery
So far, no Miami police officers have been arrested, however, sources familiar with the investigation expect arrests of city police officers and others who participated in the alleged scam to be forthcoming as the investigation unfolds.
The four Miami tow truck operators are being accused of paying bribes in the range of tens of thousands of dollars to two of the city’s public service aides, according to the FBI’s criminal complaint.
According to Prosecutor Anthony Lacosta, the aids were using official police accident information to send the pirate tow truck operators to traffic accidents. In exchange, the aides received kickbacks.
Tello told investigators that he paid one aide between $20,000and $25,000 in bribes over a two-year period, and the other aide between $100,000 and $150,000 in kickbacks over the course of a year, according to the affidavit.
The investigation was launched in 2013 by the FBI’s anti-corruption squad, working in conjunction with police departments, including Miami’s. The investigation has targeted corrupt officers from the Miami Police Department, Miami-Dade, and other local police.
Last December, three Miami patrol officers and two public service aides were relieved of their duties on suspicion that they were taking kickbacks from tow companies which they were directing to traffic accidents.
Former Police Chief Manuel Orosa said that there has been an investigation involving police officers that they have on duty.
Pirate Towing Scheme in Action
In practice, the pirate towing operators would pressure stranded drivers to have their vehicles towed to specific body shops. In turn, the body shops would boost the damage for fraudulent insurance claims, according to the FBI’s affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Donald Morin. The shops would share their profits with the tow truck operators.
According to U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer, Miami residents have a choice. If they’re in an accident and a tow truck operator that they did not call arrives, they have the right to refuse the operator’s service.
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