BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Claims of bribery and retaliation only scratch the surface of a major investigation into two truck contracts in Buffalo, and the FBI is now in the mix.
The offices of Jim Mazz Auto were raided Wednesday by the FBI. Now, the tow truck company is prepared to slug it out with the City of Buffalo in court. A notice of claim and a draft of a legal complaint were served on the city Wednesday.
Jim Mazz Auto attorney Steven Cohen said, "Kevin Helfer thinks this is a way to spank us for calling attention to this."
Cohen is angry over the raiding of Jim Mazz Auto by FBI agents and Buffalo Police. He says Jim Mazz Auto alerted the city years ago when Anthony Masiello was mayor about police officers accepting cash payments in return for giving tow companies priority calls to accident scenes. That claim is detailed in the legal complaint.
"When we went to him with allegations years ago, he made it clear 'any of my officers who are caught taking a bribe I will see that they are prosecuted and destroyed professionally,'" Cohen said.
According to the attorney, Masiello put an immediate stop to it. The complaint says the then-mayor gave direct access to anyone with information about official misconduct.
But Cohen claims his client is now being retaliated against by the city and parking commissioner Kevin Helfer for trying to stop the alleged bribes years ago. Jim Mazz auto was taken off the city's rotational tow list earlier this year. Just a few weeks ago, News 4 questioned Helfer about that.
"Right now we haven't been using Jim Mazz. I'm not going to get into that with you. But I'm just telling you that right now we just haven't been using them. That's the way it is for this time being," Helfer responded.
SPECIAL REPORT | See our story on the tow truck wars in Buffalo
The complaint, which is expected to be filed in federal court at a later date, alleges the city and Helfer maintained an ongoing effort to destroy Jim Mazz Auto, conducted a campaign of harassment by intimidating and interfering with the business.
News 4 asked Mayor Byron Brown whether Wednesday's search of the Bailey Avenue business is a "retaliatory strike" by the city.
"We are engaging in an investigation that is pursuing all the facts and all of the issues no matter where that might lead," he stated.
We reached out to former mayor Masiello about this. Our calls were not immediately returned.
Though we were unable to reach Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, News 4 has learned from a source familiar with the investigation that Cohen and Derenda met over the summer, and that Derenda asked for any evidence of wrong doing the attorney has. The source says so far Cohen has not provided the city with any evidence.
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