By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – A current police officer and a retired police officer working as a contract employee were suspended pending an investigation into allegations that they
kept fees charged for salvaged vehicle inspections.
Police Chief John Blair said on April 18 that the department has contacted several state agencies about the situation, and is complying with an audit from the Michigan Secretary of State regulatory monitoring division.
“We are currently conducting an internal investigation, but there are many documents to review and analyze,” Blair said. “We will continue to work in conjunction with the state authorities to determine which investigative body will handle the formal investigation.”
When an unlicensed, out-of-commission vehicle is salvaged or repaired, it must be inspected by a specially trained salvage vehicle inspector before a license plate can be issued. The inspection fee of up to $100 is paid to the police agency that employs the inspector.
Blair said the current officer, who is covered under the union collective bargaining agreement, was suspended with pay, pending the outcome of the investigation, while the retired officer, who was serving as weigh master, had his letter of employment suspended, and is not being paid.
A weigh master maintains the accuracy of truck scales to help ensure that commercial vehicles leave facilities at a safe and legal weight, to help maintain the safety of vehicles on the road.
Blair said the department is assessing its staffing levels and has not determined if or when it will fill the now vacant weigh master position.
City Councilman Butch Ramik, a retired police officer, said he initiated the investigation when a person came to him and said they had seen Taylor police officers in Detroit doing salvage vehicle inspections.
“I started looking into what our officers are doing in the city of Detroit,” Ramik said. “I found out not only were they in Detroit, they were in Redford and Ann Arbor.
“So naturally, the light comes on, after being a cop for 38 years: What were these guys doing down there? Were they on their own time, or on city time?”
Ramik said he investigated further, and started asking questions about salvage inspections, and was told the city of Taylor had not had inspectors since 2012, at which time he said he decided to take a closer look.
He said on the state’s 2012 salvage inspector list, he found the names of two Taylor police officers.
“They give them authority, from the state, and from our department, to allow them to inspect salvage vehicles, to make sure the VIN numbers are correct and the vehicles are roadworthy,” Ramik said. “But what really threw me off is why are we going all over the place to do this?”
Ramik said when a salvaged vehicle is inspected for a city in which an officer works, all money must be turned into the city that employs him, a point which is emphasized during the training for the position.
“That means we should have a lot of money coming in,” Ramik said. “So the first thing you do is check on the budget and see if a line item is there, and the money is coming into the city. That is when I found that we had established no line item. That means money is not coming in, or did they put it under a different line item? The more I checked, no, nothing.”
Ramik said it seemed the two officers did inspections and filled out the forms, but did not turn in the fees they collected to the city.
Ramik said he contacted the Michigan Secretary of State investigative unit, and they confirmed through its records that thousands of inspections had occurred. The state then decided to send an audit team to investigate the city’s financial records to see if it could determine where the inspection fees had been recorded.
The salvage forms were filled out properly and turned into the state, Ramik said, but there is no record of the collected fees, which were supposed to be turned in with another form.
“I told the council, ‘Show me the money,’” Ramik said. “As of right now, there is no money to be found.”
Ramik said the men have not said anything in their defense.
“We are going to let the steps be taken, in terms of how the investigation goes, to see how the state handles it,” Ramik said. “Now it is all up to the state and the state attorney general.”
Ramik said the police department’s records are being audited to see if any records can be found for the inspection fees. He said whether inspections are done during on-duty or off-duty hours, the fees must be turned in, either to the city treasurer or the police department, at which time the department decides what it will pay the officers for doing the salvage inspections. He said the city treasurer has no record of salvage fees being submitted.
“We don’t know how far we are going to go back with this,” Ramik said. “I have gone back a few years, and now that I have seen what I have seen, I hope they go back another four, five years, because from what I see, this has not just been going on overnight.”
Ramik said he is going to make sure the issue is resolved. He said it could take months before an arraignment, because of the thousands of records which must be audited.
“They will make sure that it is done properly, to make sure that all the evidence is there,” Ramik said. “That is the job of the State Prosecutor’s Office and the Secretary of State investigative unit.”
Ramik said that while this is might be a “black eye” to the city, that will heal.
“The tarnished police badges usually never heal,” Ramik said. “On my watch, this is not going to happen. I was elected to protect the people, and oversee what goes on in this community, and I intend to do so.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])