The Curious Case of the Springfield Towing Alliance

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So declared a confident Robert L. Jones, president of the Springfield Towing Alliance (STA), back in April of 2007 in a Republican story that came out just days before the STA was to begin operations as the City of Springfield’s latest contractor for towing services.

Then-Mayor Charles V. Ryan was equally optimistic, with the same Republican article quoting him as saying he thought the STA was going to do “a bang-up job.”

Fourteen months later, to say that things have not exactly gone as originally envisioned would perhaps be an understatement. Practically since the very beginning of their service to the city, the STA has been the recipient of a series of letters and notifications from the City Law Department, the Springfield Police Department and disgruntled residents alike.


815 State Street,
former address
of CF, Inc
.

Promises, Promises
When the Towing Alliance presented its qualifications to the city during a bidding process that began back in 2006, the company – actually an umbrella organization comprised of, originally, nine associated subcontracting towing companies – promised the world to the residents of Springfield. What the city actually received in the 14-plus months that followed their May 1, 2007, start can perhaps be more accurately described as getting mooned.

In the Towing Alliance’s technical proposal for bid #41 (the city towing contract), they said they would have daily communication between the STA Field Manager and the Police Department’s designated “Project Manager” to go over any issues or concerns (pgs. 11 and 17). Yet just a couple of months into the contract’s term, the City had to send out letters addressing such matters as vehicle registrations, employee CORI/SORB reviews, and payments being remitted without corresponding tow numbers.

On payments to subcontractors and the City, the STA said that subcontractors would be paid via electronic funds transfer, and that the STA manager would provide the City’s Project Manager with a “recapitulation” report. That report would include the following: SPD tow number; amount of tow; amount of storage; amount of administrative fee; sale or salvage retained; amount paid to City (pg. 20). Yet, at least in the beginning, subcontractors reportedly had issues getting paid, and at least one subcontractor received payment via lump-sum, non-itemized paper checks. Meanwhile, both the City Law Department and the SPD sent out notices addressing missing tow slips and late payments to the City.

The Springfield Towing Alliance also offered the following:
- Direct online communication between the Police Department and the STA dispatch system.
- GPS implementation, ensuring both the SPD and STA could monitor tow vehicle progress.
- Scanned copies of letters to vehicle owners, as well as tow orders submitted to the SPD.

Nearly a year after the STA began towing for the city, a draft audit report drawn up by the City Auditor’s internal audit division in March of 2008 referenced a long list of issues. They included:
- Fees owed to the City for tow jobs (estimated at 1,429 tows coming to $71,093)
- Late payments to the City.
- Insufficient documentation on the disposal of salvaged or auctioned vehicles.
- No online communications or remote access to towing data.
- Unpaid utility expenditures (estimated at $10,285.49).
- Incomplete or improper form filings.
- Failure to submit CORI/SORB reviews for its employees.
- Not all vehicle equipped with GPS “functionality.”
- Failed to identify the bank account it uses to deposit City funds.

That draft audit report was followed two months later by a contract compliance review undertaken by the Springfield Police Department on May 28. Like the draft audit report, the compliance report, which was released on July 16, 2008, found several issues where the STA “appears to be out of compliance.” Those issues included:
- Not all vehicles were equipped with GPS devices.
- No documentation on individual drivers, including CORI/SORB reviews.
- Incomplete form filings.
- Out of compliance with 600-vehicle storage requirement. (The STA maintained that they had a waiver on the 600-car requirement, but, according to the police compliant report, were unable to present any documentation on such a waiver.)
- Failing to post towing and storage rates at the storage facility.
- Violations of the 36-hour rule on notifying owners of vehicles stored at the storage facility.
- Failure to notify the Police Department regarding unclaimed vehicles. (According to the compliance report, the SPD has not received any reports from the STA on vehicles being abandoned in the storage lot.)

Yet, perhaps not-so surprisingly, not only does the STA remain in denial of any serious wrong-doing or failures, but their attorney, Mickey E. Harris, has asserted that the City of Springfield owes them money.

*

In May of this year, CJ’s Towing owner Craig Morel mailed out binders filled with incriminating information on the STA to city councilors and local media outlets. STA operations manager Robert McCollum decried the information as being nothing more than “sour grapes” and a “poison pen” effort by CJ’s Towing to win back a contract they lost to the STA in last year’s bidding war. But the actual information contained inside them was far more than mere sour grapes. Letters from the Law Department, notifications from the Springfield Police Department, and letters of complaint from residents in distress make up much of the material.

Some of the City-submitted letters and notifications included:
- A July 24, 2007, letter to Robert Jones from City Law Department associate city solicitor Alesia H. Days referenced “several matters” that had been discussed in a July 3, 2007, meeting. Among the issues were apparent delays in receiving CORI/SORB reviews of STA staff, missing vehicle inspection reports, and a delay in GPS device implementation on STA city towing-assigned vehicles.

- An October 3, 2007, letter from Days concerning the STA’s alleged “unilateral” decision by the STA to charge for the towing of vehicles from the former city contractor’s storage lot (CJ’s Towing) to the city-leased lot on Chandler Street. negotiations were ongoing regarding the transfer of vehicles from one lot to the other, and Days asserted in her letter that the STA could not charge any fee until the matter was decided and mutually agreed upon. The letter also went on to discuss the STA’s apparent practice of charging storage fees to residents whose vehicles had been placed on police ordered holds (as evidence, for example). Some of the fees amounted to thousands of dollars, and Days instructed the STA to stop charging vehicle owners in such circumstances.

- A letter on December 3, 2007, again from Days, complaining about late payments being made to the City of Springfield. In this same letter, Days also brought up the issue of incomplete form filings by the STA going back to June of that year: 153 incomplete forms in June; 332 incomplete forms in July; and 296 incomplete forms in August.

- A December 19, 2007, notification from Springfield Police Department towing contract liaison Sgt. Donald Sicard Sr., concerning three alleged violations of the towing contract. Two violations referenced remitting fees late, while the third concerned the STA apparent failure to submit copies of the final bill for tows released.

- On January 29, 2008, the Springfield Police Department sent a letter to Robert Jones. Issues brought up in this letter included: Still-awaited CORI/SORB reviews (first requested by Attorney Days back in July of 2007); list of currently contracted vehicles; an update on GPS device implementation; an updated list of associated sub-contractors, as “the City believes that the subcontractors listed have changed.” As evidence, the letter said there were towing companies listed on submitted towing slips that did not appear on the city-approved list of Alliance subcontractors. And the letter again brought up the issue previously referenced by Attorney Days regarding the STA’s practice of charging vehicle owners for vehicles placed on police ordered holds.

*

Short-Lived Alliances
One of the many issues the City has had with the STA has been the changing list of associated subcontractors who are actually performing the towing services. Correspondence has shown that the City has had trouble keeping track of the current list of companies doing business as a part of the STA.

Two of the more recent associated towing companies that are known to tow for the STA are Chico’s Towing and R & D Towing. Noticeably, both companies filed for corporate status on the very same day, May 12, 2008. According to each of their filings, R& D Towing is addressed at 36 Jardine Street, which is a residential home, while Chico’s Towing is addressed at 61 Chandler Street – which, according to this Republican story – is actually the same city-owned lot that the STA operates out of from 29 Chandler Street.


36 Jardine Street- the home of R & D Towing.

But if things looked shaky enough from the outside looking in, an even more enlightening view can be glimpsed from what a former subcontractor said he experienced during his company’s brief association with the STA.

Mascaro’s Service Station owner Ron Mascaro told the Intruder that he signed on to the STA with high hopes. But those hopes quickly faded as the STA’s day-to-day, loosely run operations spelled trouble, in Mascaro’s view. And he said that it didn’t take long for him to fall on the outs with Jones after he (Mascaro) began pointing out problems with how things were being done – and how subcontractors were being treated.

“There are proper ways to do things,” Mascaro said. “Bills need to be paid, employees need to be paid.”

Mascaro was particularly upset with the amount per tow he was receiving. He showed the Intruder a Bid Schedule Form with a hand written “$59.25″ scrawled on it – an amount he said Jones had agreed to prior to winning the city contract. But once operations began after May 1, 2007, Mascaro said that amount was significantly lowered.

Also, according to Mascaro, late payments to subcontractors was routine. He said he would often have to go to the storage facility and listen to cries of poverty as he demanded payment for his towing work. What Mascaro finally got, then, were paper checks drawn from the STA’s account at United Bank, photocopies of which he showed the Intruder. All three checks were lump-sum payments of $2,500 each. Two of the checks had memos stating “on account,” while a third stated “sub-contract towing.” Mascaro said he argued that any payments should include information on the actual tow jobs performed by each subcontractor – something similar to what the Police Department was expecting along with its payments (and often not getting).

But for all of Mascaro’s concerns and protests, in the end he was merely buying himself a short stay at the STA.

At 2:00am one early morning in May of 2007, Mascaro received a phone call. It was the Towning Alliance dispatcher with a tow job. Mascaro said the dispatcher was incoherent, and he could barely understand what he was trying to say. He said he told the dispatcher to have someone else call him back with the tow instructions.

But that return call never came in. Instead, Mascaro said he was charged with a “call refusal” – three of which, he said, were understood to be cause for removal from the STA. But he believes Jones and McCollum used that one incident as the excuse they needed to rid themselves of the bothersome Mascaro, once and for all. Mascaro said he was actually told it was “time to cut out the cancer.”

So by the end of May, 2007, Ron Mascaro was back to being on the outside looking in.

But he would not go quietly.

In July of 2007, Mascaro hired an attorney who in turn sent out a letter to the STA asking them for a copy of the Policies and Procedures of the STA so as to ascertain which policy Mascaro had violated. The response came from an STA attorney at Hare, Stamm, and Harris. It read, in part: “I am in receipt of your letter dated July 23rd in which you requested a copy of the ‘Policies and Procedures’ of the STA. That document is not currently available because it is in the process of being compiled.”

Ultimately, Mascaro decided it would be best for both his family and his business to just drop the matter. But the bitterness he feels after his experience with the STA is still clearly evident in the tone of his voice as he tells his story.

*

A Question of Integrity
Many people looking into the STA’s operations have come to ask themselves same question: How can a company that has been shown to have repeatedly violated its contractual obligations come away time and again apparently unscathed?

The two most common answers have been political favoritism and a local government grown hesitant to criticize the minority community. One city leader referred to the STA as a political “hot potato” because of its minority-owned status.

Robert Jones, who is black, has been doing business in one form or another for many years in Springfield. His story has been chronicled many times, most recently in this Valley Advocate story.

Jones also appears to have danced around the issue of reporting his own history of bankruptcy when bidding on the city towing contract. According to bid requirements, applicants must “state whether the bidder or any of the company’s owners, principals, partners and any other individuals with equity, property, financial and/or ownership interest has filed for bankruptcy in the last ten years.”

But rather than state his own recorded bankruptcies (Chapter 7 in July of 1997, and Chapter 13 in October of 2001), Jones instead endorsed a statement swearing that his current corporation, CF, Inc., had never filed a bankruptcy petition. But that is not what the bid guideline asked for.

Other principals signed their own statements in similar fashion.

So goes the politics of business as usual in the City of Springfield, where few city leaders are questioning the practices of an organization filled with question marks.

“They’re under-performing, not in compliance, and owe us money,” said Springfield City Councilor Timothy Rooke, a leading voice in the call for greater scrutiny in the STA’s operations. “Why isn’t anyone doing something about this?”

*

On July 12, 2007 – just a few weeks after her father had been dismissed from the Towing Alliance, Melissa Mascaro wrote an impassioned letter to then-Mayor Charles V. Ryan.

“The towing business has been in my family for many years,” she wrote, “and I believe that it takes a skilled professional to handle such an enormous responsibility such as a city contract. In fact, I do not believe Mr. Jones has proved worthy of anything professionally related. The city of Springfield clearly needs a change.

“This situation has not only been unfair but extremely disheartening to my family, particularly my father. I am saddened to say Mr. Jones has proven that sometimes uncanny politics overshadows the hard work and principals set forth by law-abiding citizens who wish to better their community while providing for their family. I can only hope that no serious accident in the city requires experienced and licensed towing operators.

“May God be with them.”

A final audit report on the STA’s operations is reportedly still weeks away from being released.

* *

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22 Responses to The Curious Case of the Springfield Towing Alliance

  1. Excellent new details revealed. Nothing involving Bob McCollum can be trusted.

    td
    August 4, 2008 at 3:43 pm

  2. was that a war zone picture i saw??? how can the citezens of spfld including the politions allow this????

    curious
    August 4, 2008 at 11:49 pm

  3. WoW! Bravo! Great article.

    Officer of the Law
    August 5, 2008 at 11:51 am

  4. good stuff, Bill!

    Mike Dobbs
    August 5, 2008 at 4:02 pm

  5. It seems Mayor Sarno is a continuation of Spfld’s dirty politics. Whatever happened to good old fashioned honesty. How many palms are being greased. Shame on you Mayor Sarno!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    MaryAnn Alexander
    August 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm

  6. Nice to see the real story is finally coming out. What started as a great idea to avoid a monopoly, was simply put into the wrong hands. Can Springfield not find one decent person to delegate the calls from an office equally on a rotating basis to licensed, contracted companies who have met all safety standards? Doesn’t seem hard to do if you keep reputable companies involved.

    MM
    August 5, 2008 at 5:03 pm

  7. It’s about time you all wake up. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this company should not be towing for the City of Springfield. The truth will all come out soon.

    rj
    August 5, 2008 at 6:10 pm

  8. Sounds like Mr. Mascaro should consider running for mayor in the next election…seems he has his daughter do all his letter writing…people who live in glass houses should not throw stones…I believe the towing business was started by his father Anthony way back in the 50′s, of which there was pleny of anymosity between father and son…years went by and they didn’t even speak…so for Melissa to state that the towing business was in the family for years is easily descibed as utter bullsh**, you have to know what family is before you try to defend the honor of your father…not speaking to your aunts, uncles and cousins is cause for a look in the dictionary to see the definition of family…in other words…maybe her father(Ron) should remain silent during the duration of STA…he went years and years not paying any taxes to the city for the properties he has on Walnut Street and Florence Streeet, and Hancock Street under the name of MRL associates…does he even have a business license to do business in the city of Springfield??? Does he have a permit to store all those vehicles and trucks on his properties…or is he trying to bamboozle the city of Springfield, like his son Ron Jr, did when he purchased Roadside Towing in East Longmeadow…under the assumption that their tows would be stored in Springfield and not on property in East Longmeadow??? How do two different companies operate in two different cities and not be permitted to do business in both…should someone notify the IRS about possible corruption on the part of the Mascaro “family” alliance?

    anonymous
    August 5, 2008 at 7:45 pm

  9. Cj’s Towing Should get the contact back

    Amy
    August 6, 2008 at 2:11 pm

  10. Bravo to you, Mr. Bill Dusty, for your extensive research re the City of Springfield Towing Contract.

    It continues to show the poor leadership the City of Springfield has. After over one year and all the wrongdoing on the part of STA, Mr. Robert Jones still continues to have the contract. Either, Mr. Jones is politically connected to someone or is lining the pockets of City officials. Otherwise, this would not have been allowed to continue for as long as it has. Evidently, Mr. Jones must be a higher power than our elected officials as they are obviously AFRAID to terminate his contract.

    The City of Springfield seems to have a problem re their towing contracts. They never seem to get paid and then they are always crying that they need money. As I see it from the standpoint of just an ordinary middle class tax payer, the contract should be taken away from Mr. Jones and then given to maybe two or three legitimate towing companies within the City of Springfield. They should not create a MONOPOLY” as they seem to do continuously and the City and its’ taxpayers suffer as well as the person or persons using the present towing co.

    On another note, anyone that has to write “ANONYMOUSLY” in reference to this towing fiasco, is someone trying to hide behind MALICIOUS GOSSIP. If what they have to say is the truth, they would not be afriad to give their name.

    When all is said and done, “THE TRUTH SHALL PREVAIL”

    Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against FREEDOM, DECENCY and JUSTICE.

    judith kusyk
    August 6, 2008 at 2:12 pm

  11. I don’t understand what is taking Mayor Sarno so long to terminate this contract,also if he is failing to act what happened to the control board ? Why would they allow this so called company to owe the city so much money? The audit shows STA’s first eight months behind $85000. as of Dec 31st, now eight months later it is most likley $160,000.or more. Where is this audit ???? Something needs to be done now !!!

    Walter Herrick
    August 6, 2008 at 4:06 pm

  12. In response to ” anonymous ”

    Ronald Mascaro Sr. purchased 356 Walnut Street from his great grandmother, Isabella Mascaro, upon her passing in 1987. He opened Mascaro’s Service Station NOT “Mascaro’s Towing”, as it is often misinterpreted as. Mascaro’s Service Station was operated by “my family” for the last 20 years.

    Webster’s Dictionary states the meaning of “Family” perhaps you could look it up.
    Main Entry:
    1fam·i·ly
    Pronunciation:
    \ˈfam-lē, ˈfa-mə-\
    Function:
    noun
    the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children;

    In that time, his business has grown and the need for a towing service has come about. April 27, 2005 Mascaro’s Service Station became Mascaro’s Service Station and Towing. “Mascaro’s Towing”, a completely separate business, was owned and operated by the late Anthony Mascaro Sr. Perhaps you should recheck your facts. Anthony Mascaro Sr. has been deceased for years but there is still a phone number and sign on 59 Ringold Street for a non existent business. Maybe you could contact the IRS about that. The occupants living under that household should be looked into for false advertising. I wonder why they hold a business license for a non existent business?

    Many years of my childhood, as well as my brother’s, Ronald Mascaro Jr., were spent in the Six Corners area helping my “family” by answering phones and dealing with the day to day running’s of a business. Growing up in that particular area was never one of luxury as most know. What I can pride myself in, is knowing how to stand above the animosity and jealousy of others by standing up for what I believe is right and decent. Writing a letter in support of my family is something I am proud of. Hard work and determination lead the path to success which is exactly what my father, Ronald Sr. and my brother Ronald Jr. have accomplished. It is commendable that father and son have worked together to create business’s that have and will continue to flourish no matter what “lies and gossip” seem to arise.

    Fact of the matter is that STA should not be allowed to operate under these conditions. No matter who gets this contract in the future. Bill Dusty did an excellent job investigating this case. The “Alliance” is an excellent idea with the right people involved. That way, there is no monopoly of companies. The city of Springfield clearly needs a change and it is up to the politicians to realize their mistake and “fix” the current situation sooner than later.

    Melissa
    August 7, 2008 at 5:07 pm

  13. Bill thank you for your research and interest in this financial and compliance issue. Since your article and the VA story other City Councilors have expressed an interest in getting updated.

    Once I have the completed financial audit report I will be filing a recommnedation as Audit Committee Chairman with the Mayor and the SFCB. I hope the recommendation I make is agreed with and the results are positive for the City.

    Tim Rooke

    Tim Rooke
    August 10, 2008 at 6:32 pm

  14. This is a great story and really fleshes out the details I picked up from the Republic. I plan to blog about this soon on my blog, http://www.towingutopia.com.

    Predatory, abusive towing is creeping into the towing industry all over the nation, and this is one of the latest examples. Yes, there are some people in the industry who try to run a tight ship but the sharks and bloodsuckers seem to be crowding them off the playing field.

    John Hoff (Towing Utopia Dot Com)
    August 29, 2008 at 5:33 pm

  15. Bill, this is an reveling and insightful story, but I have to take issue with one line: “Robert Jones, who is black,”

    What does his skin color have to do with any of this? Is there some racial component to the story that you meant to add that didn’t make the article?

    Herb
    September 5, 2008 at 1:15 pm

  16. Herb, there were complaints from several sources that the STA non-compliance issue was in low-gear because the STA is a minority-owned business. I actually do allude to that near the end, in the “Question of Integrity” section.

    Bill Dusty
    September 5, 2008 at 1:27 pm

  17. Ah, okay, I didn’t see that part. Carry on!

    Herb
    September 5, 2008 at 2:36 pm

  18. When is someone going to clean up this dirty business????? STA is stealing money!

    Susan P
    September 5, 2008 at 11:13 pm

  19. It all about race whites don’t want to give up a little of almost everything – let talk about cj a convicted felon and owes the city over $600,000 and roy who owes the city over $200,000 And you wonder why the city has a control board

    raceintime
    October 9, 2008 at 4:38 pm

  20. TO: Melissa
    A BELIVE anonymous, MORE THANK I BELIVE ON YOU..!
    ANY WAY…

    CJ’s Towing owner Craig Morel

    Anonymous
    October 30, 2008 at 11:34 pm

  21. TO: Melissa
    A BELIVE anonymous, MORE THAN I BELIVE ON YOU..!
    ANY WAY…
    WHY YOU BROTHER, “Yeap,, the towtruck driver”, don’t work with you Family at they company??

    if you are so great Family “the way you descrived”!
    ………………………………………………………..
    ………………………………………………………..
    Amy // Aug 6, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Cj’s Towing Should get the contact back

    cj’s?? you crazy??
    the former Splfd/police officer…?
    firt “look for record for cj owner”
    and find out why he is not longer a Policeman..!!

    then you come back, and let people know if you still thin the same..!! ;)

    springfield don’t hav luck, with the towing contactor..! that is the real thing.. :( it’sad
    look now what happen w/ STA..

    i think i’ll need to become a tow contractor..!!

    anonymous_2
    October 30, 2008 at 11:53 pm

  22. why all the crazy back and forth why not split it between several different ones so they all can make money and suppport their families

    missouri
    November 14, 2008 at 9:22 pm