Prosecutors: Philly tow-truck operators bilked auto insurance companies

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and other investigators announce charges against Philadelphia towing company Hooked Inc. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and other investigators announce charges against Philadelphia towing company Hooked Inc. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The owners of a Philadelphia towing company are in a jam.

Prosecutors say Dwight Williams and Joseph Moreno pocketed thousands by overcharging auto insurance providers for their towing services, circumventing the city’s towing protocols along the way.

“Ultimately, this is a story about greed,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner at a Wednesday news conference.

A grand jury indictment alleges Williams and Moreno, owners of Hooked, Inc. in North Philadelphia, billed insurers more than five times the industry standard — sometimes more — for a tow.

The industry standard for a tow ranges from $200 to $400, said Krasner. Hooked Inc. charged between $1,000 and $2,500 after taking advantage of dozens of drivers frazzled after bad car accidents, he said.

The city’s towing system dispatches tow-truck operators on a rotating basis to stop “wreck chasing” — solicitation — and price gouging.

Prosecutors said Hooked, Inc. operated outside that system, instead using police scanners and strategically placed trucks so its company drivers could be first on the scene.

“They need to get there fast because they need to get there before the police get there. Because if the police get there first, the police will call for the rotational tow,” said Assistant District Attorney Dawn Holtz.

The indictment details four car accidents. On one occasion, a tow-truck driver from Hooked allegedly approached a woman in an ambulance and told her she had to sign a tow slip so her totaled car could be removed from the road. The woman never called a tow-truck company. Hooked later billed Allstate Insurance $1,221.25 for one day.

Williams’ lawyer, William Brennan, said he will “zealously and vigorously defend” his client against the felony charges, which include conspiracy, insurance fraud and theft.

Moreno’s lawyer, Richard Fuschino, called his client a “gentleman” and said Hooked Inc. charges “fair fees for honest work every day.”

Williams and Moreno voluntarily surrendered to authorities on March 19.

The case is the first to come out of an 18-month grand jury investigation. Prosecutors said more tow-truck companies may be charged in the future.

“These scams have no place in our city, they tear down our city and will not be tolerated,” said Krasner.

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