Stuart’s Automotive Inc., in Congress Street.Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Stuart's Automotive Inc., in Congress Street.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- City Manager Kevin Murphy is weighing financial sanctions against a city vendor who didn't cooperate in a Police Department internal affairs investigation that resulted in the reprimand of a veteran officer.

The vendor is Stuart's Automotive Inc., one of four firms that holds a lucrative towing contract with the city. Based on Congress Street, off Gorham Street, owner Kevin Stuart declined to comment when contacted by The Sun Wednesday.

But City Manager Kevin Murphy said he was "bothered" that a Stuart employee would not cooperate in the police department's investigation of veteran officer Dennis Moriarty. Murphy declined to discuss the matter in depth, but did confirm he is considering financial sanctions against Stuart.

"It bothered me that a firm that does business with the city would not cooperate with a police department investigation," said Murphy.

Police Superintendent William Taylor, who oversees the tow contracts, declined to comment.

On the morning of March 11, 2013, Moriarty he responded to the Gulf station at 185 Woburn St. for a call "initiated by a 911 call reporting an intoxicated man driving into the lot," according to a report by IA investigator Lt. Daniel Larocque.

That man was off-duty Andover police officer, Evan Robitaille. Last month, Robitaille, 32, of Groveland, was indicted by a Middlesex County grand jury on charges of misleading a police officer, operating under the influence -- alcohol, reckless operation of a motor vehicle and leaving the scene of property damage stemming from a hit-and-run crash on I-495 in Tewksbury that morning. He is scheduled to be arraigned May 12 in Middlesex Superior Court.

Moriarty, the president of the union that represents patrolmen, was charged with officer "misconduct" for his handling of the incident. Last year, he received a letter of reprimand from then-Interim Police Superintendent Deborah Friedl for violating two department procedures on tows and having an unauthorized civilian, Robitaille, in a police cruiser.

Despite his veteran status as Lowell police officer and having overseen many OUI investigations, Moriarty told investigators he was not aware of the regulation that states, "No member or employee of this department shall solicit or assist in any way for a towing service. All requests for a towing service shall be referred to the station." According to the report, Moriarty called Stuart on his private cell phone to request the tow.

Larocque wrote: "It can be understood that calling for a private tow is something that is done on a regular basis, but the fact that the tow operator was called directly by Officer Moriarty does give the appearance that something improper was being done. This investigation has not been able to locate enough evidence to prove that anything improper was done specifically to cover up an OUI accident by the responding officers as first thought prior to this investigation."

But after attempting unsuccessfully several times to interview George Antiss, Stuart's employee who towed Robitaille's vehicle, Larocque wrote: "I find it troubling that a person in business with the City of Lowell, particular the police department would prevent another witness from being interviewed in a department internal investigation."

On at least one occasion, Stuart called the police station to cancel an interview Larocque had scheduled with Anstiss. In several other conversations between Larocque and Stuart, Stuart "kept using the phrase 'off the record.' I made it clear that out investigations were not 'off the record,'" Larocque wrote in his report.

Stuart's has also made a significant amount of money from the city on another contract. Prior to July 2011, Stuart's was one of 13 firms that withdrew bid specifications to repair police cruisers damaged in accidents. Stuart's was selected by the city because of the 13 firms, it was the only one that submitted a bid.

In the first year of the contract, the city paid Stuart's $75,000; in the second year, $74,906; and so far this year, the contract's third and last year, $45,000.

The current contract expires June 30. Purchasing Agent Michael Vaughn said he hopes more firms bid for the new contract. 

Stuart is also seeking approvals from two city regulatory boards to move his business from its current site to a parcel he plans to purchase on Tanner Street. The Zoning Board of Appeals has already discussed the project. However, it needs approval from the Conservation Commission because development would occur within a 100-foot buffer zone of River Meadow Brook. The commission is scheduled to discuss the proposal May 14. Once the commission makes a decision, it will be up to the ZBA to either approve or reject the proposal.

Follow Scott on Twitter @cscottlowellsun.