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Baltimore towing company owner alleges discrimination in suspension of city contract following inspector general report

A Baltimore towing company whose contract with the city was suspended following the release of a report by the city’s inspector general is alleging racial discrimination.

Universal Towing, a company based in West Baltimore, was the subject of a report released Feb. 4 by Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming. That report, which did not name the vendor, said the company had violated the city’s police requested towing contract by towing three vans to a private lot rather than a city lot. The company attempted to scrap the three vehicles, in violation of the state’s transportation code, according to the report.

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During a news conference Wednesday in front of City Hall, Tiffani Collins, an attorney for Universal Towing owner Malik Stuckey, argued the inspector general’s office unfairly targeted her client for conduct that various other towing companies have also committed. Collins further argued Universal Towing was subjected to suspension, while other towing companies cited by the inspector general’s office have not been.

“They choose to single out Mr. Stuckey,” she said. “Why? Because he’s a Black operating tow owner? Because he’s not politically connected and doesn’t contribute to political campaigns? He’s the only person who has received such a harsh suspension.”

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Tiffani Collins, attorney for Universal Towing, held a news conference on February 10, 2021 outside City Hall to dispute the findings of a Baltimore Inspector General's report that resulted in the suspension of the company's contract with the city.
Tiffani Collins, attorney for Universal Towing, held a news conference on February 10, 2021 outside City Hall to dispute the findings of a Baltimore Inspector General's report that resulted in the suspension of the company's contract with the city. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Collins compared Stuckey’s situation to another case that has resulted in two reports from the inspector general about a competing towing company. In that case, the other vendor was accused of overcharging Baltimore by more than $129,000. A subsequent report from the inspector general showed that company continued to work for the city throughout 2020, despite the expiration of its contract.

In a response to the second report, Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott’s office defended the continued use of the vendor, arguing it was necessary to “ensure the continuity of operations.”

Stefanie Mavronis, spokeswoman for Scott, said the mayor followed the “standard process” to separate from Universal Towing.

Cumming said the towing investigation referenced by Collins was conducted by a diverse group of investigators, as was the investigation of the other towing operator. The inspector general’s office does not recommend disciplinary action as part of its investigations. That is the responsibility of the city’s law office and the city agency involved in managing the contract, she said.

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“If that discipline seems to be unbalanced, it can’t be purported on the office of the inspector general,” she said. “To say that I target anybody is just not true.”

Collins accused the inspector general of wasting resources to investigate minor infractions committed by towing companies across the city.

“There has been a history of the inspector general unfairly targeting a certain group of vendors and politicians throughout the city,” she said. Asked what group that was, she added: “Look at the people who are being punished. Ask yourself why someone who overcharged the city by $120,000 is still operating their tow company and a gentleman who followed the instructions of the city yard is now facing suspension.”

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