It’s the end of the road for a Victoria towing company after numerous founded and alleged bylaw violations convinced city council to permanently revoke its business license Thursday (Oct. 7).
I-Tow Group, owned by John Mueller, has been under scrutiny by numerous Victoria councils for misleading and overcharging people since 2005. Mueller had his license suspended in 2005, was charged with municipal bylaw infractions in 2013 and 2021, and most recently had his license suspended again last July, bylaw services director Shannon Perkins testified in a council hearing Thursday.
The city began investigating I-Tow Group in December 2019, after receiving three complaints throughout the year from people who claimed there wasn’t proper or correct signage at the lots they had parked in, they weren’t able to claim their vehicle within the day, and that they were charged fuel surcharges when they shouldn’t have been. All three issues put I-Tow Group in violation of city bylaws and, following an investigation that revealed further infractions, Mueller was charged in provincial court in April where he plead guilty to five of the counts.
The court ordered Mueller to make a number of changes to his business, including bettering I-Tow’s parking lot signage to reflect its current address, phone number and fees, marking his vehicles with the correct company name and phone number, and paying fines to the city. City bylaw staff later inspected his progress and found him still in violation, Perkins told council. She then suspended Mueller’s license on July 29 and recommended that council permanently revoke it.
Mueller is also due in court in March 2022 to face a number of alleged violations that have arisen since his conviction in April.
This was one of his lawyer Hans Doehring’s main arguments to council Thursday for why they shouldn’t revoke his license – the new charges have not been proven in court.
Doehring argued that towing companies upset people by the very nature of their business, and a few angry complaints shouldn’t be enough to remove the livelihood of a person. He continued that Mueller only plead guilty to some past charges out of financial and practical necessity and that he disagreed that any of his actions put the public at risk, as Perkins asserted.
Mueller claimed that following the April court order he did update I-Tow’s signs with stickers, but that vandals must have torn them off. He also said vandals are the reason why his trucks are marked with “VSS,” or Victoria Super Service, a company within I-Tow Group, instead of “I-Tow.” In the past, Mueller said, people targeted and damaged his “I-Tow”-marked trucks simply for being tow trucks.
In response to questioning around why his business address is different on many of his signs and why his current address doesn’t match that on his business license, Mueller said it’s because he hasn’t been able to find any space to store his trucks and keeps having to move around.
“I can’t find a piece of property that meets the City of Victoria requirements,” he said. I-Tow’s latest address is on property that doesn’t allow for tow trucks, according to Perkins.
She asserted that the city has given Mueller ample opportunity to address and fix his violations and that it appears to her that he is simply opposed to following the rules.
“None of the time-consuming and costly legal actions the city has taken to bring the business operator into compliance seem to have any effect whatsoever,” she said.
When it came time for council members to vote, Couns. Geoff Young, Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Marianne Alto all expressed some degree of sympathy for the gravity of having one’s business license revoked but agreed it was in the public’s interest for I-Tow to no longer be operating.
Coun. Stephen Andrew was the only member to oppose the revocation, agreeing with Mueller’s lawyer that it would be inappropriate for council to decide before the new allegations had been proven in court.
Ultimately, the revocation passed in a 6-1 vote, with Andrew opposed, and Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Ben Isitt absent.
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