Towing practices are probed False vouchers alert city police


The firing of a municipal employee for falsely claiming commissions for towing vehicles to the city's abandoned vehicles lot while moonlighting for a private firm has led to a Baltimore police investigation of towing practices.

The investigation, begun in late September by police, was requested by Department of Public Works officials. The abandoned vehicles yard on Pulaski Highway in East Baltimore has been investigated several times in past years.

Public works officials said Thomas Mills, a tow truck driver and 13-year city employee, "falsified reports" that said he had towed vehicles to the yard for Cherry Hill Towing, one of at least seven firms under contract with the Police Department to tow vehicles to the facility. Mr. Mills, who received a commission from Cherry Hill for each vehicle he towed to the yard, fraudulently collected between $2,500 and $5,000 in commissions, the officials said.

Vanessa C. Pyatt, spokeswoman for the Public Works Department, which operates the lot, said Mr. Mills' activities came to light on Sept. 23 when Cherry Hill billed the city for towing services and a check of records at the lot showed that the vehicles did not exist. An investigation by department officials found that he had falsely filed vouchers for commissions for the vehicles.

Ms. Pyatt said Mr. Mills was suspended on Sept. 24 and fired Oct. 1 for conduct unbecoming a municipal employee. She said he has indicated that he intends to appeal his firing to the city Civil Service Commission.

Public works officials said Mr. Mills can be charged criminally if the police investigation finds charges are warranted. They said it is up to Cherry Hill Towing to seek reimbursement from him.

Ms. Pyatt said officials found no evidence that the towing firm had engaged in any improprieties.

Representatives of Cherry Hill Towing have not returned a reporter's phone calls.

George G. Balog, head of the Public Works Department, issued a directive Oct. 6 prohibiting employees from towing vehicles to the yard while moonlighting.

Mr. Balog acted on the advice of the city law department and after officials who investigated the fired worker learned that six others were moonlighting for private firms.

"While there is no technical violation," said Ms. Pyatt, "the spirit of the law on the code of ethics is violated by the very nature of the situation."

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