Did Top Cicero Official Go To Bat For Relatives’ Towing Firm?
Larry Dominick (L) and Michael Del Galdo (R)
Court papers allege Cicero’s municipal attorney allowed his in-laws’ tow company to use town property for free – as part of arrangement that already may have been shorting taxpayers.
Cicero town attorney Michael Del Galdo previously indicated he had nothing to do with his in-laws’ towing company, Tuff Car Co., getting a lucrative towing contract from the western suburb’s municipal government.
But recently filed court records allege Del Galdo, a top aide and campaign supporter of Cicero Town President Larry Dominick, helped Tuff Car’s finances considerably by allowing the business to use a taxpayer-owned parcel as an impound lot rent free since 2009.
The alleged favor ended up saving Tuff Car an estimated $273,000 since then, or $3,800 a month that would have ended up in taxpayer coffers.
The accusation suggests a serious conflict of interest, and contradicts the town’s assertion that Tuff Car has never received special treatment and that Del Galdo had no involvement in the contract or the towing operations.
Del Galdo would not talk to a reporter, but Cicero 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 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 Dominick when he was first elected in 2005. Del Galdo’s law firm was immediately hired by the town to handle legal affairs, and Tuff Car was subsequently hired by Dominick’s administration to tow vehicles in Cicero, including those illegally parked during street sweeping.
In 2009, Tuff Car stood to take a big financial hit as Cicero killed its street-sweeping program amid a flurry of complaints from residents who claimed they were being unfairly towed and hit up for penalties of at least $115.
But according to a pending lawsuit Tuff Car filed in recent months against Cicero, Del Galdo helped soften the blow by allowing the company to use the 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 Cicero’s ending of its street sweeping program “significantly reduced Tuff Car’s fees for relocating vehicles,” according to court filings.
Related Article: Is Cicero Towing Deal Taking Taxpayers For Ride?
Hanania says of Del Galdo, “He never had any such conversation [with Patrick Potempa]. 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” and hung up.
Either way, Tuff Car ended up with free rent since 2009.
In July, the Better Government Association published a story revealing that Cicero taxpayers may have been subsidizing Tuff Car’s operations in other ways.
Under its contract, Tuff Car was to pay Cicero $20 for every vehicle it towed at the town’s request.
But the BGA found that the firm hadn’t shared any revenues with the town since 2008, and had donated roughly $82,000 to Dominick’s campaign funds since 2005.
Town officials insisted the contributions had nothing to do with Tuff Car getting work from the town.
Explaining why revenues weren’t being forwarded to Cicero, town officials said earlier this year that Cicero often waives towing fees for seniors and people in need, and in such cases Tuff Car doesn’t get paid. To offset the company’s losses, Tuff Car keeps all of the money on tows where fees aren’t waived, Hanania said at the time.
About a month after the July BGA report, Cicero informed Tuff Car the company’s services were no longer needed because of plans to move towing operations in-house and a pending proposal to redevelop the storage lot into an aquatic center.
Two weeks later, on Aug. 27, the town ordered Tuff Car to surrender possession of the impound lot on Laramie within 30 days, according to court filings.
The company didn’t go quietly.
On Sept. 18, Tuff Car filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court asking a judge to block Cicero from ending the arrangement, at least until 2017.
The company also is asking Cicero to pay $2 million to compensate for lost revenues from waived towing fees over the years, court filings show.
On Oct. 30, Cicero filed a counter claim that says it’s within its rights to break the arrangement with Tuff Car. Cicero also says the company owes $273,600 in back rent, plus attorney’s fees and other costs – and the town asserts that Tuff Car submitted fraudulent documents to the Illinois Commerce Commission to obtain towing licenses in 2010 and 2013, an issue first brought to Cicero’s attention by the BGA.
Bob Hough, a commerce commission spokesman, had no comment about Cicero’s allegations. Arthur Sternberg, an attorney for Tuff Car, also declined to comment.
Tuff Car’s lawsuit is still pending. In the meantime, Tuff Car continues to tow vehicles for Cicero, according to interviews.