Black Bull Towing was fined $10,400 and issued a stern warning in reaching a settlement that, for now, saves the oft-fined company from being shut down.
With a lengthy history of violations, many for towing illegally from apartment complexes, amounting now to more than $38,000 in fines, the Fort Worth-based towing company was also placed on two years probation.
The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations initially sought to revoke Black Bull's operating license for one year. Any new violation will likely result in that outcome, TDLR spokeswoman Susan Stanford said.
"They’re on a very, very short leash," Stanford said. "This is Black Bull’s opportunity to prove themselves not only to TDLR, but to the public and the local police department."
Yet Black Bull Towing has remained silent regarding its most recent punishment. Owner Aaron Huhem has been unreachable and his attorney, Victor Huhem, who is also his brother, provided only a brief statement via email to the Star-Telegram acknowledging the settlement agreement and affirming Black Bull "will remain in operation."
Tow trucks and apartments
Victor Huhem has emerged as a more familiar name around town, and the professional relationship between him and his brother is raising eyebrows.
Aaron Huhem lives in Tarrant County, according to Victor Huhem, although in recent years he reportedly was living in Israel. A Black Bull Towing customer service representative said Aaron Huhem is not reachable and likely would not return messages.
Victor Huhem, who owns a law firm that represents apartment landlords, is also the founder of the Texas Association of Safer Apartment Communities, or TASAC. The association partners with apartment complexes that pay a membership fee to obtain a variety of services, primarily a monthly parking-sticker program. Concerns about TASAC were first reported in a 2013 story by the Dallas Observer.
And the tow company Victor Huhem's TASAC contracts? Aaron Huhem's Black Bull Towing.
Victor Huhem did not respond to multiple phone messages and emails following his initial statement regarding the settlement asking if TASAC still exists. The association does not appear to have a working website.
One apartment complex Black Bull Towing monitored until recently was the troubled Mira Monte Apartments on Las Vegas Trail. The complex's now-former owner, John Baker, was sued by the city of Fort Worth in November and agreed to terms of a temporary injunction earlier this month. Baker, represented by Victor Huhem, said he had grown weary of fighting the city and planned to sell.
Days later he did. To his attorney, Victor Huhem.
Victor Huhem told the Star-Telegram on March 22 that he and a group of "client investors" he would not identify were buying the complex. Tarrant County records show the sale has not been completed.
Victor Huhem said Black Bull Towing will not be retained by Mira Monte.
City Councilman Brian Byrd, who has made cleaning up the Las Vegas Trail area a top priority, said he expected to meet with Victor Huhem to discuss the new owner's vision for the Mira Monte complex. However, those plans are on hold because Victor Huhem has not returned the councilman's calls, Byrd said.
'Tarnish the industry'
Black Bull Towing's latest settlement agreement with the TDLR stemmed from three violations in two incidents in Fort Worth in 2015: Towing a car illegally from the Woodhaven Hills Condominiums on Aug. 11; and on May 27 of failing to inform a vehicle owner of the option of a drop charge when the owner confronted the driver before he drove off with the vehicle, illegally, the owner contended, from the Park Place Apartments.
The company was fined $4,000 for each illegal tow and $2,400 for failing to inform the vehicle owner of a drop charge.
In business since 2009 and headquartered at a storage yard located at 5401 Wilbarger St., Black Bull Towing has had 375 complaints filed against it, according to documentation provided by the TDLR. In July 2015, the Better Business Bureau opened a trademark violation case against Black Bull Towing after the company displayed the BBB logo on its website in violation of the BBB name and logo policy, and had falsely stated BBB accreditation, according to a BBB spokesman.
The BBB closed the case three months later because Black Bull Towing took down its website, which appears to remain defunct. Due to 55 complaints lodged against Black Bull Towing from 2015 to date, the BBB has given it an "F" rating.
"The majority of tow companies work hard to be compliant with the law and the rules, but you do have the ones that are bad that tarnish the industry for everyone," the TDLR's Stanford said.
"They’re not in a field by themselves," she said, referring to Black Bull Towing's record, "but there are very few in that field.”
Aaron Huhem started a second tow company in 2015 called BBT Dallas, according to TDLR records, with headquarters listed in Fort Worth at 5840 Harvestwood Circle — situated 174 feet from the Huhem Law Firm office at 5816 Boca Raton Blvd.
According to TDLR records, Black Bull Towing is down to one active tow truck after five vehicles were deactivated after insurance was revoked. Some trucks might have been transferred to BBT Dallas, which has eight active tow trucks, according to TDLR records.