BGA Public Eye: Suit says tow company used Cicero town lot for free since 2009

SHARE BGA Public Eye: Suit says tow company used Cicero town lot for free since 2009

Cicero town attorney Michael Del Galdo has allowed a towing company now owned by his brothers-in-law that has a lucrative contract with the west suburb to use town property as a rent-free impound lot since 2009, according to recently filed court documents.

That’s saved Tuff Car an estimated $273,000, or $3,800 a month in rent to Cicero, based on the allegations made in a lawsuit the business filed against the town in September after losing its towing deal with Cicero.

Town officials have said Tuff Car got no special treatment and Del Galdo had nothing to do with the contract or the towing operation.

Del Galdo declined to speak with a reporter.

Asked about the accusations, town spokesman Ray Hanania said, “Mr. Del Galdo has always been and remains un-involved with issues related to Tuff towing.”

Tuff Car is owned by Del Galdo’s brothers-in-law Patrick Potempa and Tim Potempa and previously was co-owned by their father, Eugene Potempa, according to interviews and records.

Del Galdo was a campaign supporter of Town President Larry Dominick when Dominick first was elected, in 2005.

Del Galdo’s law firm was hired to handle the suburban government’s legal affairs, and Tuff Car subsequently was hired by Dominick’s administration to tow vehicles, including those illegally parked during street-sweeping.

In 2009, Cicero dropped its street-sweeping program after complaints that vehicles were wrongly being towed — with penalties of $115 or more to retrieve them. That could have hurt Tuff Car’s town business.

But according to a pending lawsuit Tuff Car has filed against Cicero, Del Galdo helped soften the blow by allowing the company to use town-owned property at 1924 S. Laramie Ave. for free as a vehicle-impound yard.

“Town Attorney Michael Del Galdo orally agreed with Patrick Potempa of Tuff Car that Tuff Car’s continued use [of the impound lot] would be without charge for rent” in part because the end of Cicero’s street-sweeping program “significantly reduced Tuff Car’s fees for relocating vehicles,” according to court filings.

Hanania denies that, saying Del Galdo “never had any such conversation. He wouldn’t have the authority to make such an agreement to a contract. That would require Board of Trustee approval.”

Reached by phone, Patrick Potempa told a reporter, “I can’t talk to you,” then hung up.

Under its contract, Tuff Car was supposed to pay Cicero $20 for every vehicle it towed at the town’s request. But the Better Government Association and the Chicago Sun-Times reported in July that the company hadn’t paid the town anything since 2008 — and had contributed about $82,000 to Dominick’s campaign funds since 2005.

Cicero officials’ explanation was that the town often waives towing fees for seniors and people in need, and Tuff Car doesn’t get paid in those instances. So, to offset the company’s losses, Tuff Car was allowed to keep all of the money on tows where fees weren’t waived, according to Hanania.

About a month after the July report, Cicero officials told Tuff Car it was out because of plans to bring towing operations in-house and a pending proposal to redevelop the storage lot as an aquatic center.

Two weeks later, on Aug. 27, the town ordered Tuff Car to surrender possession of the lot on Laramie within 30 days, according to court filings.

Instead, Tuff Car filed suit against Cicero in Cook County Circuit Court on Sept. 18, asking a judge to bar the town from ending its deal at least until 2017.

The company also is demanding that Cicero pay $2 million to compensate for lost revenue from years of waived towing fees.

On Oct. 30, Cicero filed a counter-claim saying it has the right to end the towing deal and that the company owes $273,600 in back rent, plus attorney’s fees and other costs.

It also accused Tuff Car of submitting fraudulent documents to the Illinois Commerce Commission to obtain towing licenses in 2010 and 2013.

Arthur Sternberg, an attorney for Tuff Car, wouldn’t comment. And Bob Hough, a spokesman for the state agency, said he had no comment because no formal complaint has been filed.

Meanwhile, Tuff Car continues to tow vehicles for Cicero, according to interviews.

This was written by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter.

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