LOWELL -- City Manager Kevin Murphy has suspended for a month the lucrative towing contract of a city vendor that didn't fully cooperate with a Police Department internal-affairs investigation that resulted in the reprimand of a veteran officer.
Stuart's Automotive Inc. of Lowell will not tow for the month of June. Stuart's, owned by Kevin Stuart, is on Congress Street, off Gorham Street.
"After further investigation and review, although Stuart did cooperate somewhat, he did not fully cooperate in the investigation of the matter," Murphy said Friday morning.
"With someone who contracts with city and makes money from the taxpayer, we need to make sure whenever they are asked to cooperate, they are going to cooperate.
"This was a sanction myself, the city solicitor and the superintendent of police thought was justified under the circumstances."
Kevin Stuart declined to comment when reached on his cell phone Friday morning.
On the morning of March 11, 2013, Officer Dennis Moriarty responded to the Gulf station at 185 Woburn St. for "a 911 call reporting an intoxicated man driving into the lot," according to a report by internal affairs 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 Interstate 495 in Tewksbury that morning.
Moriarty, president of the union that represents patrolmen, was charged with officer "misconduct." 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.
According to the report, Moriarty called Stuart on his private cellphone to request the tow.
Moriarty is a veteran Lowell police officer and has overseen many OUI investigations. He 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."
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 Anstiss, a Stuart's employee who towed Robitaille's vehicle, Larocque wrote: "I find it troubling that a person in business with the City of Lowell, particularly 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 our investigations were not 'off the record,'" Larocque wrote in his report.
Since July 2011, Stuart's has also held a city contract to repair police cruisers damaged in accidents. Stuart's was the lone bidder for the three-year contract. To date Stuart's has received approximately $195,000 from the city. The contract expires June 30.
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.
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