DETROIT (WXYZ) — A Detroit police commissioner has been unappointed from a committee overseeing the towing industry after making controversial comments where she downplayed the seriousness of bribery.
Last month in an interview with Channel 7, Commissioner Linda Bernard lavished praise on Gasper Fiore, a towing magnate who the feds say bribed a slew of public officials who admitted to bribery in 2018.
“I do respect Gasper because he’s a hardworking man who wears, as I said, I’ve never seen him without muddy boots,” Bernard said last month.
She also defended accepting a $1,750 campaign donation from Fiore in 2020, made the same year he was released from prison.
“He did hand out bribes, he handed out money to people who asked him for money, and he had money to give. Right?” Bernard said at the time. “It’s not right. It’s wrong because they were public officials.”
“But you don’t have a problem accepting money from him?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
“No, I don’t,” Bernard said, then added later: “There are crimes, and then there are super crimes.”
Not long after the interview aired, Rev. Jim Holley—the chair of the Board of Police Commissioners—removed Bernard from the board’s towing committee.
Holley told 7 Action News that the decision came as a result of Bernard’s comments to Channel 7, and he wasn’t the only one concerned.
“I witnessed this type of a statement by a sitting commissioner and it really bothered me in terms of how (she’s) taking it very lightly,” said longtime commissioner Willie Bell.
“We had public comments, we had people call, we had people concerned saying: ‘Why is a commissioner saying this act is very minimal?” he said.
But despite the harsh public reaction to her comments, and the decision to unappoint her, Bernard doubled down on her comments.
“You knew when you asked me those questions that nothing I had done was illegal, immoral or unethical,” Bernard said Thursday. “But yet you painted the story in that way.”
Bernard stressed that it’s not against the law to accept a campaign donation from someone who has admitted to bribery—which has never been in dispute—and said that Chair Holley was reacting to unfair media pressure.
“He reacted to what was essentially, Ross, fake news,” Bernard said.
“Did you not accept a campaign donation from Gasper Fiore?” Jones asked.
“In 2020 I did,” Bernard replied.
“That was last year,” Jones pointed out.
“I was a private citizen at the time I accepted a contribution from a private individual,” she said.
“Who went to prison for bribery,” Jones added.
“A lot of people went to prison for—I’m going to give out to give out toys with a person who went to prison for 13 years,” Bernard said last night, her voice raised.
While Bernard is losing her post on the towing committee, she’ll remain on the board of commissioners. In fact, she was just re-elected last month to another 4-year term.
It’s unclear when Bernard’s replacement on the committee with be appointed. The Board of Police Commissioners won’t meet again until January.
“I know I’m the most capable person for that committee and you know it too,” Bernard said. “And they know it too. So, now you’ll have business as usual. Go right ahead. It’s fine with me. I have lots of things to do.”
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.