BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The owner of Jim Mazz Auto and two employees have been indicted on federal charges that they bribed police officers in Buffalo to get first dibs at tow truck business in the city.
Jim Mazzariello's shop on Bailey Avenue was raided by the FBI last December. Now he, his son Adam, and shop manager Christopher Mahoney are facing felony charges of bribery and filing false tax returns.
The indictment comes amid increased scrutiny of the city's tow truck industry. When a police tow truck is unavailable, a private company is called to the scene, and there have been allegations that police officers were accepting bribes to allow certain companies to get an edge on the lucrative industry.
In fact, Mazzariello made those claims himself. His attorney, Steve Cohen, says Mazzariello brought his concerns over alleged bribes involving police officers to City Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer years ago, but nothing was done.
After the murder of tow truck driver Corddaryl Henley, the city made changes to its tow truck policy to crack down on supposed cut-throat competition, changes that included only allowing approved towing companies to respond to incidents. At that point, Jim Mazz Auto was removed from the city's approved call list of private tow companies.
"The last administration to do anything about this was Anthony Masiello. We went to him, he put a stop to it and said, 'Any city official ever demands money from a tow truck driver, I'm going to see they're put behind bars,'" Cohen said. "Jim Mazzariello did not participate in any of this once we brought it to the attention of the city."
Cohen says this amounted to retaliation by the city against Mazzariello for calling attention to the corruption of Buffalo Police officers. And other companies say the city created a tow truck monopoly with their new policy.
But in spite of Cohen's claims, the three indicted Wednesday are accused of being involved in a conspiracy, with all three allegedly making cash payments to police officers in exchange for business. In addition, the indictment alleges Adam Mazzariello attempted to bribe a Buffalo Police radio dispatcher by offering a payment for each time Jim Mazz Auto received tow truck business,
So far, no police officers are facing charges in relation to this indictment. However, the document states that police officers "known and unknown to the grand jury" violated the existing policy and directed private tow companies, including Jim Mazz Auto, to accident scenes "for such expected cash payments."
The indictment also says police officers involved in the alleged conspiracy encouraged accident victims to use Jim Mazz Auto for towing services, actively impeded other tow truck operators to help Jim Mazz Auto flourish, and failed to radio dispatch, instead calling Jim Mazz Auto directly for towing services.
Prosecutors also say Jim Mazzariello filed false tax returns, greatly under-reporting his business's income, which in 2009 he reported as $1.9 million, and in 2010 he reported as $1.6 million.
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