How a $71 charge led to a towing-contract investigation in Camden

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    Troy Oglesby cruised around Camden last week like a man on a mission.

    The trek started inside a meeting room at the county library system’s Ferry Avenue branch. There, he laid out documents to make his case that the city contract-fueled tow company illegally overcharged him and several others $71 at a time.

    Whittled down further,  Oglesby ― Donovan McNabb’s former handler ― showed me a $160 charge for a July 9 tow that he contends is capped by a city contract at $89. (Same went for an unrelated tow in May, courtesy of the fact that the company charges extra for tows involving flatbed trucks.)

    He doesn’t think he’s alone, either. So, Oglesby has found Camden residents who paid more than they should have after their cars were towed for any number of reasons.

    For a guy who doesn’t even live in the city, Oglesby comes off as a crusader for Camden’s poor, but is the businessman on a quixotic quest that will ultimately cost him more money than necessary?

    His point goes beyond recouping a handful of dollars. Seeing $71 of the baseline cost waived wouldn’t begin to cover the growing cost of his car remaining at the lot $24 day after $24 day after $24 day.

    Instead, he’s talking about a class-action lawsuit and the more victims, the merrier. On this day, he was laying the groundwork that’s already resulted in an investigation.

    “Every now and then, things happen in Camden that I’m not comfortable with. I’m not the type of person to let someone get over on me,” the former Cherry Hill cop told me on Tuesday afternoon. “How many cars have they towed a month, a week? What about the weak people who don’t know about it? I’m fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves.”

    Off to City Hall

    Driving a beat-up sedan — his disabled 2010 Jaguar S-Type remained in the custody of Camden Towing Inc. — Oglesby headed through a street-flooding downpour to City Hall.

    The first stop, after an unsuccessful attempt to bail his car out paying the price on the city contract, was the first-floor City Clerk’s Office with an already filed Open Public Records Act Request Form receipt in hand.

    “A copy of the ‘Award’ page only indicating the ‘sum’ award total and ‘specific’ tow price for City of Camden contract,” it read.

    A woman working behind the counter there fulfilled this request. The amendment dated Dec. 19, 2013, reads that W. Hargrove Demolition Inc., which owns the tow company, was entitled to charge “basic tow @ $89.00 per tow, storage fee @$24.00 per day.”

    Also seen on that copy of the towing contract (PDF) is the signature of Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd.

    Oglesby, a one-time write-in mayoral candidate who operates a professional-basketball team and bail-bondsman outfit and dabbles in culinary interests, liked what he saw. It matched the crux of an argument that’s left his broken-down ride sitting in a tow lot for more than a week now.

    “I know there’s been litigation in that case, but it shouldn’t be that high,” said City Attorney Marc Riondino after Oglesby told him of the $160 charge levied. “Good luck.”

    Armed with a document that he said solidified his case, Oglesby walked across the hall to the legislative offices of state Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Assemblymen Angel Fuentes and Gilbert ‘Whip’ Wilson.

    Looking for elected-name support, he filled out a constituent-service form since no one was available to meet with him.

    “It shouldn’t be this difficult to meet a constituent,” he said while filling out the form.

    “I need someone’s urgent attention to this,” he then told the woman at the counter.

    Then, he was off to the city’s procurement (purchasing) and mayor’s offices, where he was also told no one was available to speak with him about the matter.

    “I want answers today,” he said, after leaving an “urgent” note on a yellow Post-It pad for Mayor Redd, “but they’re going to cover it up.”

    That day of activity ended with Oglesby filing a “theft of services” report with a Camden County Police detective and the promise of picking up the effort later in the week with a “peaceful protest” outside the tow lot unless someone at City Hall intervened beforehand.

    Showdown at the tow lot

    Two days after Oglesby made the rounds, he returned to Camden Towing’s lot on State Street.

    Like on Tuesday, he approached the window and was told that the tow company charges $160 for flatbed tows. A sign on the window indicates as much; posting the fees is contractually required.

    (While Camden Towing’s normal fee is $89, they charge $160 for tows involving a flatbed truck, an option Oglesby and another protester said the company used when a regular tow would suffice.)

    And like on Tuesday, he told the woman behind the counter that that fee violates the city contract.

    “I don’t know where you’re getting those numbers,” she told Oglesby, who crammed into the office with three other gentleman who claimed similar issues. “The price is not changing.”

    A polite, non-confrontational tone of discussion continued as Bill Hargrove, he of the city demolition and towing contracts, arrived on the scene.

    Hargrove said he had been told of Oglesby’s previous visits and got a call, which prompted him to come in from the lot.

    He echoed the sentiment that his company is permitted to charge $160 for a flatbed tow, despite that not being mentioned in the contract that the city provided Oglesby.

    “Unless someone from City Hall calls and tells me otherwise, you’re not leaving with the car until you paid the bill,” Hargrove told Oglesby, noting that he’s gotten no calls from those officials who his pest visited three days earlier. “If I get a call telling me we’re doing something wrong, we’ll take action. But right now, it is what it is.

    “I don’t want a confrontation. This isn’t a fight for us. If you think we’re wrong, that’s what we have men in black robes for. If someone in a black robe says I have to change it, the case is over right then and there.”

    As the tow complaintants exited the property and made their way back out onto State Street, a pair of police cars arrived.

    There was friendly discussion and no further action taken until Hargrove approached me and handed over a four-page packet summarizing a lawsuit between Oglesby and the Cherry Hill Police Department.

    He said he previously did his homework about his foe; a suit involving an attempted firing is the first thing that appears on a Google search for Troy Oglesby.

    Upon seeing the document Hargrove handed over, Oglesby told me that he was cleared of all the charges involved and, in fact, received a tearful apology from a former co-worker in the aftermath. He said it all stemmed from his efforts to recruit African American women to the force.

    Still, he was clearly miffed that Hargrove went the mudslinging route.

    Then, Hargrove invited me back into the tow lot for further discussion. We walked directly to Oglesby’s car, which featured a piece of paper with the words “BROKE DOWN” taped to the back window and a parking ticket under a windshield wiper. He said that the protestor just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    “He doesn’t know the contract, so the city is telling him something they shouldn’t tell him,” Hargrove said. “I haven’t gotten a call from anyone, no compliance officer. If there’s a complaint, someone should tell me.

    “We’ve towed 1,100 cars [recently] and twice we’ve had problems. Both times, it was him. We want to be fair, but he wants a fight. We’re steadfast in our opinion. We know what the contract says.”

    Then, he pointed out that “we have a lot of employees from Camden. That’s what we’re all about: Keeping jobs in Camden.”

    That last quote arrived unprompted.

    What now?

    As his towed car was still accumulating storage fees on Monday — Hargrove offered to waive storage fees for last Thursday and Friday as Oglesby continued to push his case as a show of good faith — the tow warrior said that he’d “delivered a letter to all of the city offices connected with this matter.”

    He claimed someone in the city’s risk-management office told him that the legal department “is working on something, but I can’t tell you what it is yet.”

    Oglesby is currently mulling formal complaints, following through with this theft-of-services report and finding others in similar predicaments to join in a potential class-action lawsuit, provided his reading of the contract holds legal weight.

    To hear the city tell it, he may have a case.

    On Tuesday morning, Camden city spokesman Vincent Basara said he checked into the matter and confirmed that the cost of a tow should only be $89 with $24/day storage fees.

    “The city takes all complaints seriously,” he told me. “This matter is currently under review, which is all I can really say about it now, but we appreciate it being brought to our attention.”

    As to that latter mission, he said it’s possible to recover seven times the damages. So, a $71 overcharge could result in a $497 penalty, without even mentioning daily storage fees that, if unpaid, result in cars being sold at auction.

    He said this isn’t just about him. It’s about people in Camden of a financial situation where $160 is a bigger burden.

    “Justice comes at a price, and for too long, the city of Camden has paid a price and gotten no justice,” Oglesby said. “I don’t mind honest mistakes, but this guy is a poverty pimp. There are good people in this city, and I’ve asked City Hall to something about it, but nobody does.”

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