Casperson:

Meeting with bribery suspect was casual, chance encounter

Sen. Tom Casperson testifies in the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Senate Bill 49 on January 24, 2013. Casperson, along with several other former and current elected officials in Michigan, are currently linked to an investigation by the FBI following bribery allegations in connection to Detroit are towing mogul, Gasper Fiore. (Courtesy photo)

LANSING — Several former and current elected public officials in Michigan, including state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, have been linked to an investigation by the FBI following bribery allegations in connection to Gasper Fiore, a popular Detroit-area towing mogul, and a multimillion dollar contract involving the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Fiore, 57, the former owner of Detroit’s largest tow firm — Boulevard and Trumbull Towing — pleaded guilty on Dec. 20 to paying $7,000 in cash bribes to Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds in order to attain a towing contract with the township, the Detroit Free Press recently reported.

Even though Fiore has only admitted to bribing one Macomb County official, investigators say he was close with numerous state lawmakers, police officials and a Detroit councilman who was then dating his daughter.

Casperson, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he was introduced to Fiore and his daughter, Jennifer Fiore, through a third party when he was in Detroit.

“I know of (Fiore),” he said. “I was in Detroit sort of doing a meet and greet when one of their representatives introduced us.”

Casperson said since he was running for Congress at the time, he told them he could use their support if they were interested, but does not believe they contributed to or supported his campaign.

Casperson said he communicated with the Fiores a second time after Jennifer Fiore asked if a representative could meet him at his Lansing office to talk about concerns regarding how MDOT bids contracts.

“The way it was pitched to me and the chief of staff was that they were concerned about the bidding process and if it was done fairly,” he said. “It was a very casual meeting.”

Casperson denied accepting any form of monies from the Fiores or their employees.

“If the idea was even presented I would have had them escorted out of my office immediately,” he said.

Casperson said he didn’t know about the bribery allegations until he read the Free Press article.

“I had no idea. When I read the article it was complete news to me. I don’t know if I was being investigated, but I certainly don’t blame them for looking into it,” he said. “When I was introduced to (the Fiores) I was running for Congress and was introduced (to them) through a third party. I never heard from anybody about them before — if they were trouble or not, if I should stay away from them. Over a year ago, the opposite of what was reported (in the media) was what they presented to me. They weren’t trying to secure a bid, they just asked if I could look into the process.”

According to court documents acquired by the Free Press, the FBI obtained a search warrant in April 2016 to tap Fiore’s phone, stating it had “probable cause” because the FBI believed Fiore and 17 others were involved in several crimes, including bribery.

The Free Press obtained a copy of the wiretap documents in a filing in U.S. District Court before they were resealed. In the documents, the FBI names 18 targets of an “ongoing public corruption probe.”

Some of the named include Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland, who has not been charged; former Detroit Deputy Police Chief Celia Washington, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting thousands from Fiore in 2015; and state Rep. Brian Banks, who has not been charged but has eight other felony convictions.

Last year Fiore’s daughter, Jennifer Fiore, helped write an amendment to the MDOT budget that ensured her father’s company would win a multimillion-dollar contract, as reported by the Free Press, which cites federal documents.

According to court filings, Fiore was allegedly obsessed with retaining a contract regarding the Emergency Road Response program, which is paid close to $2 million a year by MDOT to provide roadside assistance. Fiore and family members held the state contract since 2011, but it was up for renewal in 2016.

In recorded phone calls and text messages, Fiore and others talked about how MDOT supported Fiore based on political forces backing him, the Free Press reports. While Casperson’s name is mentioned once, according to the FBI, the reason is unclear.

In a statement issued late last week, state Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, urged Gov. Rick Snyder to look into the alleged bid-rigging of the MDOT contract.

“We need answers from the department on what I consider yet another example of MDOT’s disregard of being good stewards of our taxpayer dollars and potentially awarding a state contract on a pay-to-play basis,” Dianda said. “I urge the governor to get to the bottom of this fiasco by putting his department’s management on administrative leave and hold his officials accountable of any wrongdoing.”

Fiore faces up to five years in prison for bribery charges. He will be sentenced in May.

Jaymie Depew can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is jdepew@miningjournal.net.