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Council split on bringing back longtime towing company

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published July 8, 2015


FRASER — Foster’s Towing and Repairs has been a Fraser fixture for more than 50 years, but recent legal issues have led some city leaders to look in a different direction.

In December, the city put an administrative hold on the towing company, located on Groesbeck Highway near Masonic, to perform tows after owner Gilbert Foster and his son, James, faced criminal charges.

Service was then transferred to Maxx Automotive Towing and Transmission Repair, in Roseville.

A press release issued by Lt. Dan Kolke of the Fraser Department of Public Safety stated that AAA Michigan contacted the DPS regarding service calls that took place from April 2013 through July 2014.

In August 2014, a AAA investigator came to the DPS to report that Foster’s had been allegedly calling in fraudulent tows to AAA and was being paid by them. The amount reportedly stolen was approximately $28,000.

The investigator provided a certificate of deposit, along with a report that stated that 108 phone calls were made by Foster’s members to AAA from April 2013 through July 2014. The phone calls were reportedly made using AAA members’ cards without their permission and without completing the tows.

Also, six Foster’s representatives reported AAA members’ vehicles were towed from different places in Fraser to repair shops throughout Michigan. This reportedly enabled Foster’s to bill AAA for large amounts of money for tows that never occurred — including Foster’s calling in three tows that stated that both Fraser and Roseville police were requesting the tows.

The two departments did not request the tows, Kolke said.

“I initially investigated the case and listened to all 108 recorded calls,” Kolke said. “Our department then turned the investigation over to the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office Macomb County Auto Theft Squad (MATS). This was done to avoid any perception of impropriety.

“MATS obtained criminal warrants from the Macomb Prosecutor’s Office for the two owners of Foster’s in December 2014.”

County court records indicate that Gilbert Foster, 71, was charged in December with a felony charge of false pretenses between $1,000 and $20,000. He was also charged in 39th District Court with a misdemeanor for false pretenses between $200 and $1,000.

Michigan law states that a felony conviction of false pretenses can be punishable by up to no more than five years in prison or a fine of no more than $10,000 or three times the value, whichever is greater, or both.

In June, he pleaded no contest in Macomb County Circuit Court. Part of his plea included the dropping of the felony charge, and he was ordered by Judge Mary Chrzanowski to pay $17,898.80 to AAA for restitution, as well as $825 in court costs.

James Foster pleaded no contest to a false pretenses misdemeanor charge. In February, he was ordered by Judge Cathleen Steenland in 39th District Court to one year of probation and to pay $9,264.05 in restitution to AAA.

At a special city council meeting on June 16, the council and residents voiced their opinions on whether Foster’s should be reinstated as the city’s primary towing service in light of the felony charges being dropped to misdemeanors.

Mayor Doug Hagerty said there has been plenty of back-and-forth in the two individuals’ legal processes, but stated that entanglements should not deter them from being reinstated immediately.

He added that since Foster’s got its business taken away from them in four hours, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to get its service together in a similar timeframe and aid the city.

“They had their day, they prevailed in court and I think it’s just the right thing to do,” Hagerty said.

Councilman Paul Cilluffo discussed the health, safety and welfare of the city’s police officers, along with evaluating speed and response time for vehicles broken down in roadways. He recommended that the administration create a list of criteria of what it seeks in a service company, and then rank the criteria by what is most important.

“The thing that was kind of troubling was that when were made aware as council, I was under the impression that we were given information and asked to act on it at the advisement of the attorney,” Cilluffo said.

Councilman Matt Hemelberg called the situation “a temporary deal until the court was final,” adding that the city has plenty of paperwork on the charges.

Councilman Mike Carnagie was not on board with reinstating Foster’s due to the city council’s wanting for companies to submit proposals. Carnagie said that if they are going out for bid anyway, it doesn’t make much sense to go back and forth between multiple companies if the end result of the proposal process is unknown.

Councilwoman Barbara Jennings said that at the city’s Jan. 8 meeting — when the council voted unanimously to go out for bids for a towing service — the council was instructed to act after the court decision had concluded. Then, there would be a request for proposals.

“It was my understanding that as soon as this court case was completed, we would go out for bid,” Jennings said.

Nathan Foster, one of Gilbert’s sons, spoke publicly at the meeting and said, “I hope that when this criteria is drawn up, that the city gives preference to tax-paying businesses in the city of Fraser — not outside the city.”

Robert Maksym, owner of Maxx Towing, stated his case as to why his company should continue to be the city’s primary towing and repair service — which includes a new truck to haul heavier vehicles, he said.

“We have really dedicated our company to take care of your city,” Maksym said. “We have stepped up to the plate and done an excellent job. … We were called in to do a job on last-minute notice, and we’ve done an excellent job.”

After council and public comments, the council voted and it ended in a 3-3 tie, meaning Foster’s would not be reinstated at the current time. Hagerty, Hemelberg and Accavitti voted to reinstate Foster’s immediately, while Cilluffo, Carnagie and Jennings voted against that measure.

Proposal requests should reach council members in July, with a decision slated to be made by August at the latest.