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Winnipeg towing company charges city $1.1M for tows that never happened, report claims

Sub-contractors for Tartan Towing submitted invoices for tows that never happened between 2016 and 2022, worth a total of $1.1 million, a City of Winnipeg report claims. (Tyson Koschik/CBC - image credit)
Sub-contractors for Tartan Towing submitted invoices for tows that never happened between 2016 and 2022, worth a total of $1.1 million, a City of Winnipeg report claims. (Tyson Koschik/CBC - image credit)

The City of Winnipeg says a towing company charged it for more than a million dollars worth of tows that never happened.

Now, city officials have proposed a settlement with the company that would see it repay less than half of what the city says is owed.

In December 2021, the city launched a review of all invoices from Tartan Towing, the company it had contracted to do what are referred to as "courtesy tows" of vehicles during residential snow clearing parking bans, starting in 2016.

The review found that several invoices, worth a total of $1.1 million, were invalid, according to a report that will be reviewed by the city's executive policy committee next week.

To avoid taking the company to court, the report says the city has negotiated a settlement with Tartan to pay back $446,000 over the next two years.

"I'm frustrated because why aren't we asking for … the full amount?" said Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West), chair of the public works committee.

"The city has the contract with the towing company.… [How] the towing company delivers the service is not our problem. They are responsible for delivering the service. I wonder why the towing company wasn't also checking with their contractors."

Lukes also questioned why the city wasn't checking its invoices before December 2021.

"It's really failures on both sides," she said.

Lukes plans to ask city officials why police are not investigating, she said.

CBC News asked Tartan Towing for an interview, but an employee said no one was available.

Company should be suspended: Lukes

The report says since the overcharges were discovered, Tartan has fired some of the tow truck drivers involved and given warnings to others, while others have left the company.

The city has also changed its tracking methods. Tow truck drivers must now include photos before and after a vehicle is towed.

"Tartan has issued a strong warning, to all current and future operators, of consequences as a result of any misuse or false reporting using the app in the future," the report states.

The proposed settlement requires council approval, but if council doesn't approve it, the city could sue Tartan.

"If this matter proceeds to trial, the city would have to invest financial and/or human resources to initiate a litigation proceeding and would need to both prove its losses and that Tartan caused the losses," report author Kalyn Bomback wrote.

In an emailed statement, city spokesperson Adam Campbell wrote that "Tartan provides the city with ongoing towing services and the public service wishes to maintain a working relationship."

Lukes doesn't agree.

"I honestly think this contractor shouldn't be allowed to continue. They should be suspended for a period of time," she said.

In a briefing on Jan. 20, executive policy committee members requested a number of other changes to the agreement with Tartan.

They want the company to identify the sub-contractors involved to ensure they are not hired in the future. They also want the public service to determine what steps Tartan is taking to make sure sub-contractors are not making false claims, as well as steps the city can take to make sure this doesn't happen again.