Island Lake sued over controversial towing contract
A Fox Lake towing company is suing Island Lake over a controversial deal the village had with a politically connected rival.
The lawsuit, filed last week in McHenry County court, also claims the village's deal with Mike's Towing cost Patriot nearly $214,500 in potential profits and unrecovered business expenses.
Named as defendants are the village, the village board, Mayor Charles Amrich and former trustee and former police chief Anthony Sciarrone. Mike's Towing and its owner, Island Lake resident Michael Johnson, also are named in the complaint.
The lawsuit claims Amrich, Sciarrone, Johnson and Mike's Towing illegally conspired to interfere with Patriot Towing's business relationship with the village.
The lawsuit also alleges the defendants violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act by not complying with requests for public records relating to Island Lake's towing contracts and other subjects.
Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Amrich, Sciarrone and the village of "losing or destroying" its towing agreement with Patriot and other towing deals.
Village attorney David McArdle said he read the complaint and sent it to the village's insurer. He declined to comment further.
Amrich also declined to comment. Neither Sciarrone nor Johnson could be reached for comment.
Villages typically use towing companies to haul away cars after accidents, DUI arrests and other police matters.
In Island Lake, towing and politics have a tight relationship.
Johnson contributed $500 to Amrich's and Sciarrone's campaign slate in 2013, Illinois State Board of Elections records show.
Shortly after Amrich and Sciarrone took office in May 2013, Mike's Towing got an exclusive contract to handle towing for the police department.
The pact was a gentleman's agreement and wasn't approved by the village board. It meant an Island Lake outfit called Sharp Auto Body, which at the time was co-owned by McDonald and Island Lake resident Louis Sharp, was out as the village's preferred towing company.
Sharp is a former Island Lake trustee and a prominent political foe of Amrich's. He bought McDonald's share of his namesake company in 2014, and McDonald went on to launch Patriot Towing.
Johnson had filed a federal lawsuit against the village shortly before the 2013 election, claiming the police department's exclusive use of Sharp Auto Body for towing services violated his civil rights. He dropped the case after Amrich took office.
The deal with Mike's Towing lasted until a three-company rotation was created in April 2017, according to village documents. The three firms comprising the rotation were Mike's, Patriot Towing and Whitey's Towing of Crystal Lake.
But in November 2017, Amrich and Sciarrone -- who by then had resigned as trustee and was the police chief -- approved a new, exclusive contract with Mike's Towing without informing the village board. Trustees learned about the secretive deal in early 2018, and some were outraged.
Then-Trustee Sandy Doehler said the pact undermined "government transparency and fairness."
At the time, Johnson denied the contract was an example of pay-for-play politics.
Trustees requested a rotation that includes at least two towing companies. In May 2018, the board voted to give Amrich permission to sign a contract for police-related towing services -- but the agreement didn't identify what company or companies would handle the task.
Mike's Towing subsequently was named the department's primary choice for tows, and D & L Midwest of Cary was chosen as a backup if a truck from Mike's isn't available.
That deal remains in place under Chief Dan Palmer, who was hired after Sciarrone was fired by the village board last year. When asked how many times the department has called D & L for a tow, Palmer said "at least once."