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Back in September 2010, then-San Diego City Council President Ben Hueso asked then-Mayor Jerry Sanders to do a background check on the towing companies bidding on the city’s contract.

Hueso’s constituents had complained about towing companies mistreating them, and nearby National City had recently axed a company that had taken a customer’s car on a 155-mile joy ride, Hueso wrote in a memo.

“We must do all we can to ensure that a responsible and ethical business will be providing towing services,” Hueso wrote.

A month later, Hueso followed up with the city’s purchasing and contracting department, said Tanya Duggan, a spokeswoman for Hueso, who is now a state senator. The department told him it would look into doing background checks, Duggan said.

Two months after that, Hueso left for the state Legislature. That was the end of the background check idea.

Had the city performed the background checks it would have found that Nash Habib, the owner of Angelo’s Towing, had committed two felonies – something Habib hadn’t disclosed on his bid to the city even though all bidders were asked to disclose any felony convictions.

That was just one of the many missed opportunities the city and other government agencies had to discover that Habib has habitually misstated and misled about aspects of his and his company’s history in bids for prestigious government contracts. Angelo’s won a city contract and has contracts with the county and California Highway Patrol, among others. When government agencies have found out about Habib’s problems they’ve either failed to tell other departments what they found or responded with a slap on the wrist.

In 2012, San Diego’s city attorney went after Habib and his wife for failing to report his entire criminal history to the CHP. CHP asks towing company owners to disclose their background as a condition of receiving work from the agency.

Habib’s lawyer from the case cited his client’s history as an Iraqi refugee, limited education and knowledge of English to explain this omission. Habib, for instance, said he didn’t know the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony. Ultimately, the city attorney dismissed charges against Habib. His wife, who filled out the CHP forms, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for knowingly concealing information from the document.

David Siegel, the CHP officer who oversees the agency’s towing agreement, said Angelo’s Towing wasn’t punished after the case.

“They’re still on our rotation,” Siegel said.

Even as the city was prosecuting Habib for failing to disclose his criminal history to the CHP, San Diego officials never realized he’d done the same thing in his bid to get city contracts. The inability of city departments to communicate Habib’s problems to one another has been a continual problem.

In his bid, Habib told the city that his company had never been fined for violating city rules. But at the time of the bid, the city had just ended a five-year code enforcement case against Angelo’s for operating a tow yard without proper permits. Habib eventually agreed to a $10,000 settlement to resolve that issue.

Habib also told the city his company had never filed for bankruptcy. But it had, and the city’s lawyers were formally notified of it as part of the code enforcement case. (Habib’s bankruptcy filing was tossed two weeks after he filed it because he didn’t include all the proper financial statements.)

Scott Chadwick, the city’s chief operating officer, told me the city was unaware of all of the issues surrounding Habib until I notified them during my reporting.

“Different departments knew components of this, but there was no coordination in the process,” Chadwick said.

After I sent the city my questions about Habib and Angelo’s, the city opened an investigation, which it expects to finish in the coming weeks, Chadwick said.

The city isn’t the only agency that has trouble talking internally. Angelo’s also has a contract with San Diego County. Its application asks the towing companies to disclose all the other towing companies they’ve had a financial interest in to prohibit monopolies.

Public records show that Habib was involved in starting a company called Expedite Towing, which he didn’t disclose in his bid. The county was notified of the omission in a 2013 letter from a law firm that alleged various troubles with Habib’s application.

But the county took no action against Angelo’s back then and it doesn’t seem to care that Habib currently appears to be violating rules prohibiting towing company owners from having multiple companies operating in the same area.

Back in May, Habib disclosed a financial interest in C&D Towing. A towing company with the same name also received a county contract to work in the same neighborhood as Angelo’s.

I asked the Sheriff’s Department, which administers the county towing contract, if it was aware of the 2013 letter and Habib’s financial interest in C&D and whether it had taken any action in either case. The Sheriff’s Department bizarrely responded that it was treating my questions as a public records request, and replied it had no documents that would address either question.

County spokesman Mike Workman eventually told me that the Sheriff’s Department had received a copy of the 2013 letter. Had the Sheriff’s Department done anything about the complaint, county staff would know.

“We have no such record,” Workman said.

On Habib’s financial interest in both Angelo’s and C&D, Workman replied: “You’d have to ask the sheriff.”

So I did, a second time. The department still hasn’t replied.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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