Eight Queens residents and two local towing operators were named in a massive indictment this week for allegedly participating in an illegal towing racket across the five boroughs.
“If you were involved in a collision between June 2015 and December 2017 and received assistance from a tow company, chances are, you were an unwitting customer of an illegal enterprise that dominated New York City’s towing industry until our takedown today,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said in a Feb. 21 statement announcing the indictment. The participants allegedly worked together to form a criminal enterprise, profiting from insurance fraud, bid rigging and other crimes in order to control not only the towing of disabled vehicles from city streets, but also in many cases where those vehicle would be repaired.
Hempstead resident Daniel Steininger, 43, led the ring that operated between 2015 and 2017, according to prosecutors. Working with 16 co-conspirators and a number of auto body repair shops and towing companies, the operation restricted competition in the towing industry; fraudulently bought out competitors in the towing industry, along with their licenses; and committed insurance fraud by inflating claims for work conducted at the participating auto body repair shops.
Vance said the conspirators disregarded long-held citywide regulations of the towing industry, which includes geographic service zones for operators and rotational accident response programs to ensure fair competition.
Steininger, who owns D&D’s Impressive Auto Collision based in Manhattan, began working with Staten Island’s Norman Teitler, 74, to purchase various towing companies without the city. The transactions were done through shell companies that Steininger allegedly formed — and without the required notice to the Department of Consumer Affairs. Vance said this constituted a violation of the “10 percent rule,” which requires new towing company owners to hold towing licenses for a year before being eligible to participate in the city’s towing response program.
Among the fraudulently acquired companies was Southside Collision and Towing based in Queens Village and operated by David Conti, 44, of Franklin Square, NY. Another auto body shop under Steininger’s control is Authorized Auto Body in Long Island City.
Many of the newly acquired companies didn’t have the required facilities or employees to operate. In order to fool inspectors, prosecutors said, Steininger employed Queens’ Daunte Huff, to develop ways to ensure that each company passed required inspections.
Prosecutors said that the ringleaders also instructed their tow truck drivers to disregard the rotational response programs in place and start chasing accidents. They would monitor police radio reports of accidents and rush to respond to them before the officers, and any other competitors, arrived on scene.
Moreover, authorities said, Steininger employed three Queens brothers — Angelo Mazzio, 53, Michael Mazzio, 49 and Salvatore Mazzio, 40 — to bid for and control permits for towing operations along multiple highway segments in the city. They also allegedly subcontracted collision work that Steininger and other ring participants controlled in exchange for a quarterly $20,000 fee, along with a percentage of resulting insurance claims.
Two other ring participants — George Coppolino, 53, of Queens, and Carl Fava, 58, of Forked River, NJ — oversaw the agreement between Steininger and the Mazzio brothers, prosecutors noted.
To further solidify their stranglehold on towing operations, law enforcement sources said, in 2017, Steininger enlisted his sister — Karen Steininger, 39, of Queens, who operates Bronx-based Tow-arrific — to submit “competing” bids to the NYPD’s contract for towing operations along major arterial highways.
Four auto body managers employed by Daniel Steininger — including Queens’ Edwin Roig, 59, and Maurece Wimberly, 45 — also allegedly bilked hundreds of thousands of dollars from auto insurance companies by inflating claims for repairs made to damaged vehicles. In some instances, prosecutors said, they charged insurance companies for parts that didn’t need to be replaced, or repairs that were never made.
The indictment was the result of a lengthy investigation conducted by the Manhattan DA’s office along with the city’s Department of Investigation, the NYPD Criminal Enterprise Investigations Section, the NYC Sheriff’s Office, the state Department of Taxation and Finance and National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Steininger faces charges including enterprise corruption, money laundering, criminal tax fraud, scheme to defraud, conspiracy, offering a false instrument for filing and contract or agreement for monopoly. The others indicted face similar, various charges.