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Investigators looking into city towing procedures; Buffalo officials invited probe of bribery allegations

Federal investigators, at the request of Buffalo city officials, are looking into allegations of bribery payments being made to Buffalo police personnel by city tow truck operators, sources confirmed to The Buffalo News on Friday.

Details remained sketchy late Friday, but it is known that more than a year ago, officials from the city -- in collaboration with the Buffalo Police Department -- initiated an investigation into misconduct possibly involving police officials directing work toward select tow-truck operators.

During the course of the investigation, the sources told The News, city officials solicited assistance from the FBI in the probe.

The News also learned Friday that three city tow-truck businesses -- Jim Mazz Auto, Riverside Towing & Recovery and a South Buffalo towing operation -- are on a routine list to be sent to calls for private tows when the Buffalo Police tow truck is unavailable.

This week, Mazz was removed from the list, sources told The News.

At least one source said it may have involved this investigation, as well as another unrelated incident that occurred with the tow operator recently.

James Mazzariello, owner of Jim Mazz Auto, was not available to talk to a reporter when his business was reached by phone Friday afternoon, according to a man who took a message at the company.

How tow trucks operate in the city has drawn scrutiny this week after last weekend's murder of tow-truck driver Corddaryl Henley at Walden Avenue and Latour Street.

Some in the business have said the 25-year-old married father of three was believed to be the target of a competing tow-truck operation gunman angry that Henley was taking away some of the lucrative business of hooking tows for the city.

Sources told The News it's not uncommon for competing tow-truck operators to race to accidents scenes to make the pickups. Private tow-truck companies are used by the city when the police tow truck is unavailable. Sources said no city tow truck is staffed during the midnight shift.

Meanwhile, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said late Friday that he expects new tow-truck policies could be in place in the city as early as next week.

"The concern has certainly been raised that there is a lack of clarity for the orderly process of towing," Brown said. "We want to bring clarity to the process."

Brown said that earlier this week he directed the city's corporation counsel "to review the towing ordinance and come up with recommendations and come up with a policy that could be implemented."

The mayor said he intends to "review the recommendations" and implement any necessary changes to the city's policy, which could involve initiating a "zoned" approach to towing.

"We don't believe it's necessary for tow-truck operators to race to scenes," Brown said. "We want to preserve the rights of consumers to select the tow-truck operators of their choice."