Last spring, Miami Beach prepared to release its latest periodic audit of the city's two major towing companies, Beach Towing and Tremont Towing. But before the report could be finalized and made public, the companies objected to the metrics used by the city's auditors and successfully pushed commissioners to order a new audit from a third-company firm.
To date, neither the city audit nor the third-party audit has been made public, although New Times has sued the city to release the records. But in the interim, the towing companies flipped the script and started their own audit of the city. As of a result of their investigation, Ralph Andrade, an attorney and lobbyist who represents Beach Towing and Tremont Towing, says he believes Miami Beach owes the two companies a total of at least $1.8 million.
"It's a two-way street," he says, "and there are mutual obligations of the parties."
This past Thursday, Andrade sent a letter to City Manager Jimmy Morales outlining what he believes is owed. The letter gives the city until May 29 to pay up.
The largest piece of the pie comes from the city supposedly overcharging the companies for a "permit fee" for the past four years. For each car that is towed by Beach or Tremont at the request of the city's police or parking department, the companies must pay the city that fee.
According to city code, the permit fee is set at $20 per vehicle. But according to Andrade, the city has been charging the towing companies $25 for vehicles belonging to Miami Beach residents and $30 for non-residents — the rates set forth in an entirely different rulebook, the city's administrative rules and regulations. Andrade argues that the city code "trumps" the administrative rules and regulations.
According to Andrade, that means Miami Beach has overcharged Beach Towing at least $622,555 and Tremont Towing at least $615,530 since December 1, 2015.
A spokesperson for Miami Beach declined to comment on Andrade's letter.
In addition to the alleged overcharges, Andrade says the city owes Beach and Tremont for services rendered over those years, including police-ordered storage of vehicles at the tow yards. According to Andrade, Miami Beach also has outstanding charges for vehicles released at the city's request — if someone's car is towed and the police or parking departments request that the vehicle be released at no charge to the owner, the city is supposed to pay the bill.
The letter sent to Morales says the city owes Beach Towing $107,022 for vehicle storage and $107,098 for vehicles that were released; Tremont Towing is allegedly owed $268,635 for vehicle storage and $97,994 for vehicles released.
The towing permits assigned to Beach Towing and Tremont Towing expire August 31. Andrade says the two companies hope to resolve their differences with the city before then and continue their longstanding partnership.
"We believe that we will be able to come to some sort of amicable resolution to remain in that same harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship we've enjoyed for four decades," he tells New Times, "but, of course, outstanding issues need to be resolved."
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The city, meanwhile, sent its own letter to Andrade this past Thursday, seemingly coincidentally. In the letter, Morales urged the towing companies to pay the bill for the third-party audit, as they promised to do last year.
According to invoices attached to the letter, the towing companies are on the hook for $44,500.
Andrade responded to Morales hours later.
"[The towing companies] have been unable to pay the invoices due to the financial devastation caused by COVID-19," Andrade wrote in an email. "But might I suggest the following — will the City agree to pay the outstanding RSM invoices and deduct same from the $1,818,835.45 that it owes my clients?"