A towing company owner is suing Avoca Borough, alleging his business was damaged after Mayor Robert Mullen took him off the municipality’s tower list in favor of a competing firm run by a friend of the mayor.
Joseph Lokuta III, owner of Lokuta’s Garage, at 818 Suscon Road, is seeking damages in excess of $150,000 and reinstatement to the towing list. He alleges one count each of breach of contract, interference of prospective economic advantage and civil conspiracy, according to a suit filed in Luzerne County Court.
Reached Wednesday, borough Solicitor Charles McCormick said he was aware of the suit but declined comment.
According to Lokuta’s suit, his garage has been providing towing services to the borough and its police department since 2003. About three years ago, Lokuta maintains, the borough instituted a list of approved towing firms, including his own, that would alternate in responding to service calls. Most recently, Lokuta’s Garage and BMJ Towing would alternate calls, Lokuta says.
“The agreement to place Lokuta’s Garage on the tow list constituted an oral contract, and was approved by the borough through borough council,” the suit states.
After being placed on the list, Lokuta invested capital in his garage “to ensure he could adequately serve the borough’s needs,” the suit says, but it does not specify how much was invested.
“In May 2013, suddenly and without warning, Lokuta was told that he was ‘off the tow list’ and would no longer be called upon to tow for the borough,” the suit says, and Lokuta “has lost thousands of dollars per month” as a result.
On further inquiry, Lokuta claims he was told by borough police Chief David Homschek and a police officer that the removal stemmed from an incident in which one of Lokuta’s drivers responded to a call while intoxicated.
“When challenged by Lokuta as to which driver of Lokuta’s Garage was intoxicated, the story was changed to a passenger of one of Lokuta’s tow trucks was intoxicated,” the suit says.
Lokuta alleges that Mullen is “a close friend” of the other firm’s owner and unilaterally removed his company from the list without informing Borough Council or submitting the move to a vote — a fact Lokuta says Mullen admitted at the July 11 council meeting. The suit also says Mullen told Lokuta “it was too difficult” to keep track of two names on the list.
Lokuta’s suit includes a copy of meeting minutes which read: “After a lengthy discussion, Atty. McCormick advised Joe that Mayor Mullen has the discretion of calling a tower of his choice.”
Lokuta says council, which approved the original list, “took no action to remedy the situation.”
A jury trial is sought in the case.