The company, Bergen Brookside Towing, maintains that no wrongdoing has occurred, and that the accusations come from the competing garage’s “lack of competence” in understanding the contract they have held for the last three years to tow and repair village-owned vehicles.
The investigation into the Hackensack-based garage became public last week when Frank Thissen, owner of Village Auto Body on Chestnut Street, a competing bidder for the contract, brought the accusations before a meeting of the Village Council.
“It’s come to my attention that they’ve been allowed to overcharge on their bids,” Thissen told the council during the public comment session. “It cost the town a lot of money.”
Neither members of the council nor Heather Mailander, the acting village manager, were aware of any investigation into the matter at the time, but Mailander later confirmed that the police began looking into the allegations on Sept. 17.
That day, Mailander wrote in an email, “Mr. Thissen filed a preliminary police report with the Ridgewood Police Department regarding possible issues involving bid contracts for towing and repairs of Village owned vehicles. The matter was immediately assigned to the Ridgewood Police Detective Bureau, which is currently involved in an active and on-going investigation.”
John Salemme, the owner of Bergen Brookside, told Patch that he was unaware of such an investigation until press inquiries this week.
“This is fresh news to me. Nobody asked any questions on any kind of investigation,” he said, suggesting that the competing garage was “not reading the contract properly.”
The company’s bid for towing municipal vehicles specified that for most tow jobs it would not charge for mileage, except in cases where the travel exceeded a distance of ten miles or more outside of Bergen County.
A Patch review of receipts from 25 jobs performed for the village since 2010 shows that Bergen Brookside on several occasions charged for mileage, or billed hundreds above the $95 tow charge for large trucks specified in the bid. When totaled, the charges are approximately $1,000 above the costs anticipated with the bid.
Asked about the apparent overcharging, Salemme pointed out that the amounts specified in the contract exclude emergency tows, which he said are cases that require immediate attention and, he claimed, not subject to the dollar amounts laid out in the bid.
“All of Bergen Brookside Towing, Inc.’s tow operators and dispatchers are thoroughly trained to price out each of our 30-plus governmental contracts as by law,” Salemme said, “and for the record, we have an impeccable track record with all 30-plus contracts we hold.”
He added that some of the apparently excessive charges would have been triple the price if the work had been done for a private client.
Salemme also said there was no
validity to the charge, made by Thissen, that an advantageous personal
relationship existed between him and the director of Ridgewood’s
fleet services. Thissen, whose shop performs repairs on municipal vehicles, has accused the municipality of favoritism toward Brookside in assigning jobs.
Salemme added that he would be cooperative with any investigation into his business practices, and be available for questioning by police or other village officials.
“I’m ready to sit down with anyone to explain myself,” he said.