WILKES-BARRE – Let's say two cars are stolen from Wilkes-Barre's streets. One is recovered in the city, the other in a neighboring town.
Both vehicles are towed by the city's contracted tower, LAG Towing Inc. One of the vehicle owners is charged towing and storage fees to recover the car. The other is not.
The scenario isn't purely hypothetical; it has occurred in the past.
In each case the owner was a victim of a crime, which, under LAG's contract with the city, means the owner cannot be charged for the tow, right?
Not necessarily, says city Police Chief Gerry Dessoye.
LAG's owner, Leo Glodzik III, has come under fire in recent weeks after several people came forward to allege they were charged to recover their stolen vehicles, despite a no-charge provision for crime victims contained in his contract. That controversy and other alleged contract violations led city council last week to recommend LAG's contract be terminated.
But Dessoye said he does not believe the no-charge clause within the contract applies in all cases.
The contract states the contractor shall tow, free of charge, any vehicles owned by any victim of any crime, or as directed by the police department.
Dessoye believes that provision applies only when Wilkes-Barre police order the tow, he said. It does not apply if another municipality contacts LAG to tow the vehicle.
He has a contract with Wilkes-Barre city for what we direct him to do, not for what other departments direct him to do, Dessoye said. If it's a police-directed tow, and we designate the owner as a crime victim, that's who does not get charged.
Dessoye said the no-charge provision would apply if a car is stolen from another community and located in Wilkes-Barre, as long as it was Wilkes-Barre police who directed the tow. Likewise, if a vehicle is stolen from Wilkes-Barre and located in another town, there would be no charge as long as Wilkes-Barre ordered the tow.
Council President Bill Barrett, a former city police chief, said he believes the wording of the contract means no crime victim should ever be charged, regardless of what department ordered the tow. A crime victim is a crime victim, Barrett said. If they live across the bridge and their car is stolen in Kingston and ends up in Wilkes-Barre, they're still a crime victim.
Dessoye, who helped develop the towing contract, acknowledged there is nothing in it that states the city police must order the tow. He said that was the intent when it was created.
The intent of the contract was not to burden him with other departments' tows, Dessoye said. That puts an unfair burden on the contractor.
Asked if it also wasn't unfair to charge some crime victims and not others, Dessoye said that's an issue for individual municipalities to discuss. If other municipalities don't want crime victims to be charged, they need to work out their own agreement with their own towers, he said.
City officials are reviewing complaints from people who believe they were wrongly charged by LAG. Police are still collecting information to evaluate the circumstances of each case, Dessoye said.
Barrett said he believes LAG's contract is clear, but, as with any contract, acknowledged there could be differing interpretations. Those issues should be addressed in the next contract, regardless of which tower gets the job, he said.
We can beat this to death with all the scenarios that can happen, said Barrett. Maybe it's time to revisit it and ensure there is clearer language so that it's fair to everyone.