SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — A federal lawsuit alleging Sheriff Brian BeGole showed favoritism and broke the law in assigning towing companies to requests for service is moving forward even as the sheriff denies the charges in his court-filed response.
Lepley and Sons owner Rob Lepley filed suit June 17 in Michigan’s Eastern District of United States District Court. A conference by attorneys for both parties is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Aug. 29 in U.S. District Court in Detroit for a status and scheduling conference to summarize the facts of the lawsuit, outline proposed discovery and to set a schedule for discovery cutoff and trial dates.
Lepley’s suit claims BeGole’s “favoritism” and “unconstitutional actions” have negatively impacted his business by causing his company to be removed from the county’s towing rotation. Lepley’s suit states he has “sustained economic damages in the form of loss of income from being excluded from the non-preference towing rotation along with the favoritism toward Allstar Towing.” The business owner is seeking more than $25,000 in damages and reinstatement to the service rotation.
The lawsuit also alleges BeGole “has been unfairly favoring one of (Lepley’s) competitiors, i.e. Allstar Towing,” by selective enforcement of the county’s towing policy, which resulted in Lepley’s company being removed from the tow rotation in November 2018. The lawsuit claims the policy “was put in place by the defendant (BeGole) as an excuse in which to justify the removal of (Lepley’s) from the rotation which would benefit Allstar Towing, whose owner (Richard Gokee, Jr.) is (BeGole’s) friend.”
Additionally, Victor Mastromarco Jr., Lepley’s attorney, submitted a witness list July 1 of individuals who may be called to testify in the case, including Lepley, BeGole, representatives and record keepers of Allstar Towing, Allstar Towing owner Richard Gokee, Jr., and the individual(s) who gathered and provided the information that caused Lepley’s to be removed from the rotation.
Gokee is contracted by the Sheriff’s Office to perform maintenance on vehicles and other equipment.
Attorneys for BeGole, represented by Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho of Grand Rapids, filed a response Aug. 1. BeGole’s attorneys deny Lepley’s and Sons Towing was “wrongfully removed” from the county’s lucrative towing rotation and claim “any reason given for the plaintiff’s (Lepley) removal from the non-preference towing rotation was pretextual.”
“The defendant (BeGole) is entitled to qualified immunity,” BeGole’s attorneys wrote in their response. “Reasonable officers could disagree as to whether defendant’s conduct violated clearly established law… The defendant was acting within the scope of his authority… The plaintiff’s (Lepley) claims are barred by governmental immunity, whether it be statutory, common law, absolute or qualified immunity.”
BeGole instituted a towing policy in 2017, and has repeatedly stated it is doing what is was designed to do, which is protect customers from being taken advantage of or overcharged. He previously told the Argus-Press “there are frivolous complaints made by other wrecker companies. We have learned this is a dog-eat-dog business. All of them complain about each other. Things are pretty even across the board now.”
However, statistics provided to the Argus-Press through a Freedom of Information Act request show Allstar has received significantly more calls than other tow companies in Shiawassee County, especially in late 2018 and in 2019 after several other companies were removed from the rotation. Allstar is currently the only company on the county’s rotation.