Hobart board will decide fate of towing company
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent August 1, 2012 3:42PM
Updated: August 1, 2012 9:00PM
HOBART — A nice man. A generous man. A friend.
That’s how several Hobart police officers on Wednesday described Tony Cuba, owner of T & K Towing in Hobart, during the final day of a hearing that will determine if the firm can return to the Police Department’s towing rotation after being terminated by Police Chief Jeff White in March.
White removed T & K after an internal investigation found the firm had a disproportionate number of tows compared to its competitor, Samson Towing, reportedly largely due to solicitations for tows by Patrolman Brian Hanson, who worked off-duty for T & K.
Cuba, who was not accused of doing anything illegal and denies making any solicitations or asking others to solicit tows for him, said his and his company’s names were damaged by publicity following his termination and asked to be placed back on the rotation.
Now the Board of Public Works and Safety must decide whether Cuba’s generosity and friendship made some officers feel indebted to him and therefore bring him more lucrative tows, or whether White abused his discretionary powers when removing T & K when the former police chief had already taken different disciplinary action on the matter.
“I’m not suggesting this is double jeopardy, but once something is determined by a police chief, for it to be reopened by the new police chief is an abuse of power,” said Cuba’s attorney, Hugo Martz, in his closing remarks.
But White’s attorney, Dan Whitten, said when taking over as chief in March, White was faced with officers “having cash-for-tow contests, and officers feeling pressure to bring in more tows that was affecting the morale of the officers.
“There was a huge disparity in the number of tows ... This wasn’t an accident or two along the way,” Whitten said.
White said an internal audit done in 2010 found one officer did 60 tows for T & K compared to 18 for Samson, while another called in 20 tows for T & K compared to five for Samson. Several officers had testified that Hanson had called them when he was working for T & K asking for more tows. Hanson only got paid by the firm when he had a tow. No officer said they received a solicitation from Cuba.
While he did not include it in his letter of termination, White said other factors were taken into consideration including T & K being consistently late in giving the Police Department its monthly reports and checks, allegations of what was seen as an attempted bribe by Cuba to an officer, charges that he siphoned gas out of cars by a former employee and his giving gift cards to an officer that were used in department contests.
“I felt that the officers were put in a position to be obligated to T & K Towing rather than obligated to their job,” White said.
Detective Sgt. Chief Dave Evans, who was police chief when allegations against T & K were first revealed, said he felt the matter was being “blown out of proportion.” Evans, who called Cuba a friend, said he felt the problem was resolved when he requested that Hanson and another police officer no longer be allowed to tow cars for T & K on the days when it was towing for Hobart police.
Evans said he ultimately decided to alternate the two towing companies every other tow.
George Luke, a former interim and deputy chief who retired from the force in April, said he had no knowledge of Cuba giving gift cards or paying officers cash for tows. He said when he was the code enforcement officer he had asked Mayor Brian Snedecor, who was police chief at the time, if he could use Cuba solely to tow junk cars for him and Snedecor agreed.
“If Tony has a flaw it’s that he’s nice, much too nice. People take advantage of him,” said Luke.
Cuba said when he heard that Hanson was soliciting tows he told him to stop. He said he was late in filing his monthly reports after his business manager suffered an aneurysm and he had computer problems, but has been on time since January. He said he only siphons gas out of cars that are going to be scrapped because he was told he had to remove the car’s gas, oil and Freon in a letter from the owner of a local scrap yard that he uses.
Cuba said he gave gift cards to an officer who refused payment for doing book work for him and denied trying to bribe an officer.