Fort Worth has suspended its relationship with Beard’s Towing pending dual state and local investigations into alleged fraudulent activity.
Fernando Costa, assistant city manager, said the city received allegations that Beard’s Towing was submitting false information to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
“The police department is investigating reports that we’ve received to the effect that Beard’s Towing has been fraudulently securing state certification for some of their employees,” he said. “I think the formal charge is tampering with a government document.”
James Bennett Jr., owner of Beard’s Towing, said the company has retained attorney Matthew Bobo and that the allegations against the company were a result of a “disgruntled ex-employee.” Bobo said the former employee submitted a complaint alleging Beard’s was submitting false paperwork to the state.
“What’s really insane about the whole thing is Beard doesn’t, and can’t, submit that paperwork to the state,” he said. “There are companies that TDLR certifies to give exams and say, ‘Hey, you’ve done your continuing education.’ Those are the only entities that can send information into the state… So it’s really just a disgruntled employee who doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about.”
Beard’s Towing has two towing licenses, under the names JBD Towing and Towing Guys. Tela Goodwin Mange, public information officer with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, confirmed to The Report that there are three complaints against JBD Towing currently under investigation. There are no open complaints against Towing Guys, she said, but two complaints in 2019 and 2020 were both closed because of insufficient evidence.
Mange said she could not provide further information on the open investigations.
The city received documents related to the tampering allegations through a court-issued warrant, Costa said. The city expects its investigation to conclude in the next few days.
Beard’s is one of at least 23 approved towing companies used by the city of Fort Worth. AutoReturn, a national company based in San Francisco, manages the companies as subcontractors for about $525,000 each year. The company first entered into an agreement with the city in 2018, and the current contract expires in September.
According to a 2018 report to council, the need for a company to manage subcontractors, like Beard’s, became clear as the city struggled to handle the costs and logistics of manually impounding 3,000-3,500 cars each year.
“Each time an officer encounters a situation requiring a tow truck, the officer radios the police department’s communications staff who must consult rotation lists of the 20-plus local contracted vendors and make telephone calls to find a vendor who is next on rotation in that zone, who has the appropriate equipment, and who is ready and able to take the tow call,” the report said.
As a result, wrecks were taking longer to be cleared, causing unnecessary safety concerns. Additionally, the police department was responsible for manually updating records of towed vehicles, resulting in delays in providing information to officers and residents.
Under the contract with AutoReturn, the city has several disciplinary options for subcontractors, including mentoring the company, issuing temporary suspensions for up to 90 days and permanently suspending the company from the city’s list of approved towing providers.
Originally, the city’s contract with Beard’s extended into 2023, according to Costa. It was suspended after the city learned of the allegations against the company. The contract will remain suspended until the city concludes its investigation. Along with Beard’s Towing, the city is looking into the 23 other towing companies under contract with AutoReturn.
“We’re just trying to make sure that every company is in compliance with state and local requirements,” Nico Arias, an assistant city attorney, said.
In a statement, the city’s legal department declined to comment further, saying the city does not comment on ongoing investigations.
“The city is dedicated to ensuring its incident management towing program is run in a responsible, safe, and fair manner,” The statement added.
Beard’s has been in business since 1954, and city records show the company has secured contracts with Fort Worth since at least 2012. It was one of several towing companies that responded to the February 2021 pileup on Interstate 35, leaving hundreds of vehicles totaled, six people dead and dozens injured.
Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.
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