SUGAR LAND, Texas - Attorneys for a towing company filed a lawsuit Monday night asking a judge to immediately block new city towing contracts. The lawsuit claims Sugar Land failed "to treat all applicants fairly and equally."
John Elias, of Collision Clinic, LLC held a news conference Monday morning with his attorneys alleging the city played favorites when it awarded new towing contracts. Standing with him in front of Sugar Land City Hall was owners of other tow companies supported his lawsuit.
Elias' city contract was not renewed in March and he claims the city acted unfairly by blocking some companies from towing contracts and giving others special treatment. Elias owns Collision Clinic, LLC.
"I've probably lost 50 percent of my business," Elias previously told Local 2 investigative reporter Jace Larson. Larson first reported on the towing controversy and Elias' plan to file a lawsuit Friday.
Elias' attorney claims the city did not follow the ‘request for proposal' rules as Elias claims was required.
"Some applicants were contacted about deficiencies in their proposals and given the opportunity to make corrections when (Elias) was not," the lawsuit says.
Elias claims each of the companies awarded the new city contract in March got preferential treatment after the city decided to reduce the number of towing companies it calls when a car needs to be towed.
Elias had been doing business with the city for decades, he said. The city said his registration paperwork did not follow guidelines set by the city.
Elias' attorney claims Facebook messages show the owner of Big Rod's towing, Rodney Rodriguez, who was awarded a new contract, is friends with the police supervisor who helped award the contract.
The Facebook messages talked about their kids playing ball and discussed traveling to tournaments, but didn't discuss a towing contract.
"Of the successful bidders, some were receiving assistance from the City of Sugar Land Police Department and some have personal relationships with one or more of the City Official Defendants," Elias' attorney claims.
Sugar Land Police Chief Douglas Brinkley previously denied Elias' claims.
Brinkley said there is no problem with a tow company operator being friends with a police supervisor who helped decide who would get a contract.
Elias is also unhappy that City of Sugar Land's contract rules say the city will not do business "with single business entities, no DBAs." DBA means 'doing business as' and is often used when a company is registered under one name but does business under another name.
Local 2 Investigates found at least one company given a contract uses a DBA.
"A quick review of the license records of the successful bidders showed that they also had DBAs, but they were not excluded from consideration…" Elias' attorney says in the lawsuit.
"I can certainly understand the confusion with the language in the contract," Brinkley said. "It's OK to have multiple DBAs but if you are going to tow for the City of Sugar Land, your license, your insurance, your business license must all line up under the company you are submitting the bid for."
Brinkley said the city process was fair, but next time he will make things more clear.
He said the reason the city reduced the number of tow contracts was because too many tow trucks were responding on scenes. He also said the process allowed the city to check insurance and other requirements to make sure tow companies doing business with the city followed state and local rules.
The lawsuit lists Sugar Land Chief of Police Douglas Brinkley, First Assistant City Manager, Steve Griffith, Assistant Police Chief Scott Schultz and Lt. Mark Grothaus as defendants, according to the attorney that represents Elias, Omar Khawaja.
A&M Wrecker Service LLC, J&H Towing and Recovery LLC, Long's Towing LLC, Big Rod's Towing Inc. and Russell Rossett DBA Mike's Wrecker Service are also expected to be listed as defendants, Khawaja said.
The city of Sugar Land sent Local 2 a statement Monday afternoon which read:
"The Sugar Land Police Department identified problems with its wrecker truck rotation that included tow trucks not on the contract arriving at accident scenes claiming they were sent by one of Sugar Land's contracted companies. Companies working under several different business names made it difficult to verify insurance and licenses. The chief of police recently established a process for annual renewal of the contracts to ensure insurance coverage is up to date and trucks that show up at accident scenes belong to companies on Sugar Land's rotation. The new process better protects motorists from predatory business practices.
Sugar Land's towing contracts provide service for the public when drivers have trouble on the road, such as accidents. Police use this list to call a tow truck that is paid for by the vehicle owner, not the City. This effort ensures tow truck operators charge a fair price and are reputable."
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