City alleges Berman's towing overcharges customers

Company says it's unfairly accused, has until March 11 to respond

March 10, 2013|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore officials are threatening to cancel the city's contract with Berman's Towing over allegations that the company is adding "excessive charges" to its bills.

"Please be advised that these unauthorized actions must immediately cease," Timothy Krus, the city's purchasing agent, wrote in a letter received Friday by Berman's Towing. The company is one of the city's "medallion" towing firms that respond to police calls for service.

Krus wrote that the company and its two subsidiaries, Berman's Towing 2 and Berman's Towing 4, have been "found to be in default of the terms" of its contract with the city that allows it to tow vehicles when called by the police.

Krus said he is recommending that the Board of Estimates terminate Berman's contracts at its meeting March 20. He gave the company until March 11 to respond to his letter in writing.

Troy Berman, a spokesman for the company, said the city's rules and regulations don't allow officials to terminate Berman's contract without due process.

"They've skipped over the investigation and got right to the sentencing, without giving us an opportunity to rebut their charges or appeal," he said. "We haven't been told what we're being charged with, so it's very hard to respond. We've asked repeatedly to sit down with the city of Baltimore. We were rebuffed."

Anthony Guglielmi, a city police spokesman, said the department on Friday suspended the company's license to tow for the city. Berman's is under investigation by both the Police Department and the city's inspector general, Guglielmi said.

In Krus' letter, he said the company can charge a daily storage fee of no more than $38, which can be imposed if an owner does not pick up the vehicle within 12 hours of being notified. Additionally, the company is allowed to charge a one-time $44 processing fee.

The contract covers crash scenes, parking violations and other incidents in which Baltimore police call for tows.

Among other allegations, Krus said, the company was charging for "equipment and services not actually provided or allowed under the contracts."

Krus also wrote that Berman's has apparently been "utilizing an alternate business name, Secure Vehicles Solutions, through which it has added charges to invoices, including additional higher administrative and storage fees."

In August, the city awarded $1.8 million in contracts for its lucrative towing business, ending a practice that had allowed a small circle of companies to bypass the city's competitive bidding system. Under the old system, the companies were not required to demonstrate that they were best equipped to provide the service or that they charged the lowest rates.

After an investigation by The Baltimore Sun, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, then-police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and City Councilman James L. Kraft called for a review, and the transportation department issued a request for proposals for the towing contracts.

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