More than a dozen tow truck fraudsters were indicted Wednesday, charged with a years-long scheme to allegedly monopolize the city’s towing industry, chase after collision sites, attack their competitors’ trucks, inflate insurance claims, and even damage customers vehicles themselves to charge more, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
Leading the scheme was Daniel Steininger, 44, who allegedly managed the enterprise and worked to thwart the competition as well as steer business to the defendants’ auto body shops, according to the DA’s office. Steininger was held in lieu of $1 million bail on Wednesday.
A total of 17 people and 10 companies were charged in the scheme, which occurred from June 2015 to December 2017, according the DA’s office. They were charged with several offenses, including enterprise corruption and scheme to defraud.
“In certain industries, as in this industry, pervasive corruption still exists, harkening back to a different, darker time and era,” said Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance.
According to the indictment, tow companies — under Steininger’s direction — would monitor police radio transmitters to ensure they were first to a scene. The first towing service to arrive at the scene usually got the job. They allegedly looked for the most lucrative tow jobs, some worth as much as $50,000 per job, Vance said.
If a rival arrived at the same time, Vance said they would “show some force, cause a ruckus,” by striking the rival company’s tow truck with a crane as warning or retaliation.
“There is an organized crime element to the case and it does center on who gets to decide what territory goes to whom,” he said.
According to the indictment, the defendants would also allegedly damage vehicles themselves in order to charge more to fix it and would claim to perform repairs they didn’t make.
James Kousouros, Steininger’s attorney, said his client pleaded not guilty on Wednesday.
“He denies the allegations,” he said. “We believe in the end, the district attorney’s claim that this is an industry rife with collusion will be disproved.”