Two Detroit police officers, including one who oversaw the department’s integrity unit, appeared in federal court on Wednesday to face bribery charges related to the towing industry as part of a broad public inquiry on corruption in the city.
According to prosecutors, Lt. John F. Kennedy and Officer Daniel S. Vickers teamed up from May 2017 to take money, cars, parts and auto repairs from an unnamed person involved in the towing industry in return for their influence and helping a towing company to get business illegally.
Kennedy and Vickers also provided inside information about a police investigation at the tower – identified in court records only as “Tower A” – in exchange for money and cars.
After Vickers told Tower A in November 2017 that he didn’t have to worry about the police investigation into his towing business, Tower A told Vickers that he and Kennedy would be getting free cars.
“If I know I’m okay, I’ll line them up,” Tower A told Vickers, according to court records. “I have two, two for (Kennedy’s) kids and one for you. He’s got a Chrysler 200, Fusion and Beamer,” apparently referring to a luxury BMW model.
Kennedy, 56, of Rochester Hills, and Vickers, 54, of Livonia, both appeared in downtown federal court on Wednesday afternoon wearing handcuffs. The two men are accused of corruption and conspiracy to commit acts of corruption. The corruption charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000. The count of corrupt conspiracy is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000.
On Wednesday morning, FBI agents raided a house listed as Kennedy in Rochester Hills.
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Vickers became emotional during his court appearance, exclaiming “I didn’t do that!” and clap his hands on a podium. US State Judge Elizabeth Stafford advised Vickers “to be careful not to say things when you are not asked a question.”
Vickers and Kennedy were both released on unsecured $ 10,000 bail with conditions that restrict their movement, possession of firearms, and contact with those involved in the case. Their arrests will continue on Friday.
The charges are the latest public action in a massive corruption investigation known as Operation Northern Hook, linked to at least three city council members and a confidential FBI source who was linked to the Detroit towing industry. . In late September, former city councilor Andre Spivey pleaded guilty to accepting bribes totaling $ 35,900 in return for his help with city towing regulations.
Spivey’s case was the first indicted in the federal investigation.
On August 25, FBI agents raided Detroit City Hall and the homes and offices of council members Janeé Ayers and Scott Benson, candidates for re-election in the November election. These search warrant records show that the FBI was looking for campaign finance records and documents related to nonprofit welfare organizations.
Neither Benson nor Ayers have been charged with a felony.
Acting U.S. lawyer Saima Mohsin on Wednesday said Kennedy and Vickers should not undermine public confidence in law enforcement because the vast majority of police are exceptional public servants.
“Police officers who compromise the integrity of the police service by prioritizing personal gain over policing excellence will not be tolerated, and this type of betrayal of the police service and the citizens of Detroit will be thwarted at all times,” said Mohsin in a statement. . “Today’s indictment is a step in that direction.”
Detroit Police Chief James White said the police department “anticipates this outcome” and will continue to cooperate with the FBI. He noted that the investigation had started before his appointment as chief this summer.
“The department has already implemented sweeping changes, and more are on the way,” White said in a statement.
According to a federal indictment released Wednesday, while serving as the Police Department’s Integrity Unit Supervisor, Kennedy worked with Vickers and accepted cash and other valuable gifts. in return for the police lieutenant using his influence to persuade other officers to make two dismissals in violation of the city ordinance and police department policy. The integrity unit is part of the internal affairs division of the ministry.
According to the charges, the couple undermined the city’s policy to ensure that towing companies compete fairly for work in the city. As part of the city’s towing rotation, qualified towing companies are called in by police to evacuate cars seized by police or reported stolen.
Kennedy and Vickers, according to the indictment, knew they were violating city rules that prohibit a towing company from receiving referrals if they are not on the department’s rotation.
As part of the plot, between October 2018 and March 2021, Kennedy accepted more than $ 14,000 in cash, cars and car repairs as bribes from an anonymous owner of the towing company and d ‘an undercover federal agent, according to federal prosecutors.
Federal law enforcement officials also allege that between February 2018 and June 2018, Vickers accepted $ 3,400 in bribes from the towing company.
‘That’s why I call you SPONSOR’
Beyond money and cars, the alleged bribery scheme also involved carpet work for Vickers, according to the indictment. Vickers asked Tower A in March 2018 to help him line his house.
“I really want to get on this mat,” Vickers said at Tower A, according to the indictment.
After the carpet was sorted out, Vickers told Tower A that he would help him with his towing business. Tower A wanted help towing the crashed vehicles and Vickers, according to the indictment, responded:
“You don’t have to keep telling me you’re one of the best people in my life watching over me, I’ll do whatever I can to return the favor… that’s why I’m calling you GODFATHER.”
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In October 2018, Tower A gave Kennedy a used 2016 Ford Escape valued at $ 5,600 and made $ 1,625 in repairs to the car in return for Kennedy’s help in sending business to Tower A, according to the indictment.
More recently, Kennedy contacted Tower A in early September. “Kennedy asked Tower A if he had any cars available: ‘I only need one car instead of 2’,” the indictment read.
This is not the first time the city police department has had problems with the towing industry. A recent federal criminal case involving a former Detroit police officer and an internal Detroit Police investigation documented separate alleged cases of officers directing work to specific towing companies.
Various criminal prosecutions, municipal audits and legal proceedings have shown a hotbed of tow-related corruption, a lack of city oversight and an inability to implement necessary reforms.
Mayor Mike Duggan and Chief White said they are working on overhauling the city’s system for hiring towing companies. City council recently passed its own changes, trying to address consumer complaints about high fees and predatory practices by towing companies.
The Detroit Towing Association, a group of towing companies representing the majority of police-licensed towing companies in Detroit, said Wednesday the organization will continue to advocate for fair and transparent towing operations.
“It is unfortunate that the towing industry is branded as ‘corrupt’ every time a government official … is accused of corruption in connection with Operation Northern Hook,” the association said in a statement. “Just as we shouldn’t label all police officers as corrupt, neither should we label all towing companies as corrupt.”
Free Press editor Gina Kaufman contributed to this report.
Contact Joe Guillen: [email protected] or 313-222-6678.