Feds: Philly cop took bribes from tow-truck operators

Federal authorities say Philadelphia Police Sgt. Brian Smith accepted more than $20,000 in bribes last year from tow-truck drivers seeking an edge on their competitors.

A veteran police officer accepted more than $20,000 in bribes to give two towing companies an unfair advantage in the lucrative and highly competitive business of clearing wrecks from Philadelphia streets, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Sgt. Brian Smith, who joined the force in 2005, allegedly raked in kickbacks totaling about $800 a month between December 2015 and November 2016 to tip off the tow-truck operators to locations of fender-benders and disabled vehicles reported to the city’s call center.

In exchange, according to an indictment unsealed this week, Smith texted the men with advance notice of wrecks before official calls were placed to the next towing company on the city’s rotating list.

That list, implemented in 2011, was designed to fairly distribute business among Philadelphia’s licensed tow operators, after a series of high-profile incidents of wreck chasing, price gouging, and violent encounters between tow-truck drivers competing over accident removal. In one 2010 turf dispute, a driver killed a rival by running him down with his truck.

The case against Smith comes less than three years after former Philadelphia police dispatcher Dorian Parsley pleaded guilty in a similar scheme, and six months after a police detective, Patrick Pelosi, pleaded guilty in a case involving $24,000 in bribes received from a friend seeking his help to clear cars from a national law enforcement database of stolen vehicles.

Smith, who had been assigned to the 26th District in Fishtown, has been suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss, a department spokesman said.

He pleaded not guilty to charges including bribery and lying to federal authorities at a court hearing Thursday afternoon.

Court filings in his case do not identify either of the towing operators who purportedly paid him bribes.

The sergeant and his lawyer, Fortunato Perri Jr., did not immediately respond to requests for comment.