Accused of tow truck corruption, OPP officer takes the stand

Accused of tow truck corruption, OPP officer takes the stand

One of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers accused of taking a bribe in exchange for sending business to a lucrative Toronto-area towing company took the stand in Superior Court to deny he did anything wrong.

Const. Simon Bridle said he wasn’t playing favourites when allowing certain tow trucks to take vehicles at the side of Highway 407 and intended to pay tow company owner Steve Pillay back for the $52,000 Pillay spent in lease payments for a pickup truck.

“It’s church and state. Just because I and other officers purchase vehicles doesn’t change how we work professionally on the highway. I don’t feel any debt to him. If you think I would risk my employment, my pension, my benefits and my reputation for a good deal on a thirdhand truck, then you’re mistaken,” he said.

But Crown Attorney Jason Nicol said the arrangement to pay Pillay back for the truck was a lie Bridle told OPP investigators on the spot, arguing there’s no record of any deal.

“Steve Pillay and Steve Pillay alone was going to pay for the truck, which was a small price to pay for the profit he was reaping for his company’s interactions with the accused at the side of the road,” he said.

Three veteran OPP officers were charged with taking secret commissions and breach of trust, and several more were suspended in 2021 after a sweeping anti-corruption probe looking into whether officers were getting favourable treatment for sending valuable towing business to certain companies.

Const. Bindo Showan pleaded guilty to breach of trust and was given a one-year suspended sentence last year after a review showed he sent 78 per cent of tows — more than $500,000 in business — to companies run by Steve Pillay, whose full name is Sutheshkumar Sitthambarpillay.

Pillay was a fixture on the reality show “Heavy Rescue 401” on Discovery, which, like CTV News, is a division of Bell Media. However, the agreed statement of facts in the plea deal did not indicate a kickback.

Bridle’s case is the opposite: the Crown says that Bridle received the benefit of a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado whose lease payments were paid by Pillay. But data does not show any favouritism – instead, it shows more tows went to other companies, according to an agreed statement of facts in the case.

Bridle’s lawyer, Danielle Cunningham, told the court Bridle didn’t play favourites and was doing his best to be fair to the tow companies because his superiors weren’t helping him. She said that unlike on other highways, the 407 didn’t have an organized dispatch and a list that could coordinate which tow company would get what.

Other officers clearly sent more business to Pillay, but Bridle’s choice of tow companies didn’t change after receiving the truck.

“If there’s some kind of nefarious kickback with this truck and the whole concept is he’s feeding tows, why doesn’t that number change? Why? Because Mr. Bridle is routine, that’s why,” she said.

Pillay himself was charged in the case, but his charges have been stayed, Nicol said.

The alleged corruption is just a small part of the lawlessness in the GTA’s troubled tow truck industry, which has attracted organized crime, arson and even murder.

“There’s a lot of money to be made, not just in the tow, but where the vehicles go afterwards, to body shops, and tow trucks also receive a commission,” said retired Toronto detective Mark Mendelson in an interview.

“There’s nothing more scary for individuals sitting on a road of people flying past you, all you want to do is get off that road. In terms of the tow truck drivers, it’s all about taking advantage of this,” he said.

The provincial government changed tow truck rules, hoping to stamp out corruption. Whether Bridle will be found guilty is up to Justice Low.

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