After a tow truck company owner now under indictment for bribery pressured top aides of Mayor Eric Adams to revoke a competitor’s license, City Hall denied the rival’s permit renewal — bucking a judge’s earlier order that found cancellation “too harsh.”

Michael Mazzio, owner of Mike’s Heavy Duty Towing, asked members of Adams’ inner circle to end rival Runway Towing Co.’s exclusive rights to haul vehicles from city highways, rights that he’d once held before being removed.

Mazzio steered bribes to Eric Ulrich, a top adviser to Adams, and argued that the city needed to terminate lucrative agreements it had with Runway Towing, according to an indictment filed earlier this month by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Records obtained by THE CITY show Mazzio helped raise $140,000 for Adams’ 2021 mayoral election campaign.

At the time, Mazzio faced an uphill battle that had begun during former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure. In August 2021, a Manhattan judge ruled that a city agency decision not to renew  Runway’s permit was “too harsh” and “shockingly grave in its consequences.” 

The judge instead directed City Hall to use its “discretion” to impose a lesser more proportionate penalty, such as probation and fines.

Then Adams was sworn in — and his administration terminated Runway’s exclusive rights to tow disabled vehicles from city highways anyway, a decision that put Runway out of business.

On Tuesday Runway’s attorney, Errol Margolin, filed suit against the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, contending that corruption was the core reason the Adams administration acted counter to Manhattan Supreme Court Justice’s Debra James’ August 2021 decision.

In the lawsuit, Margolin alleged that DCWP initially went after Runway only after Mazzio made allegations about his competitor after the department had revoked his license. Then Mazzio took the next step by pushing the Adams administration to go after Runway, the suit charges.

“The denial and destruction of RTC’s business is the product of corruption,” the lawsuit charged. “Eric Ulrich and Mazzio ensured that the DCWP would never comply with Judge James’ Decision and that (Runway) would never again receive a DCWP license to operate on the seven segments of the New York City Arterial Highway Program.” 

Mazzio “has got somebody in there who destroyed Runway’s business, who put him out of business,” Margolin said in an interview. “Mazzio has been engaged ever since he got kicked off the highway to get Runway off the highway.”

“This is not crazy,” he added. “It’s called corruption.”

Runway’s owner, Chris Pritsinevelos, told THE CITY that Mazzio has been trying for five years to bring him down ever since 2018, when Mazzio was indicted on bid-rigging charges and the city terminated the exclusive permission of Mike’s Heavy Duty Towing to remove vehicles from assigned segments of city highways. The NYPD, which oversees the highway towing program, then handed Mike’s routes to Runway.

“The NYPD gave me his segments of the highway and since then he’s done everything he could to put me out of business,” Pritsinevelos told THE CITY. “I’m the guy who replaced him and that’s why he wanted to go after me.”

A spokesperson for Adams, Charles Lutvak, responded via email, “Mayor Adams meets with New Yorkers every day and was not aware of Mr. Mazzio’s legal issues until the results of the Manhattan DA’s investigation were made public.”

Sordid Backstory

The sordid backstory unfolding behind the scenes in the broad-shouldered world of tow trucks only began to come into focus Sept. 13, when Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg indicted Mazzio and five other defendants on charges of bribing Ulrich to win a variety of favors from the Adams administration. 

By the time of the indictment, Mazzio had been fighting his earlier 2018 indictment by then- Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., charging him with bid-rigging conspiracy and filing false documents. That indictment had ended his exclusive rights to highway towing and triggered DCWP to deny his license renewal.

Under de Blasio, DCWP also refused to renew Runway’s license, but for very different reasons. The agency reported it had fielded complaints from dozens of vehicle owners claiming Runway had hit them with charges more than allowed.  

Runway went to court to dispute the city’s decision, arguing that Runway had produced 50,000 documents per DCPW’s request and that the overcharges were mostly minor fees and amounted to no more than $6,000 over several years. During an Aug. 5, 2021, hearing before Judge James, Mazzio’s attorney, Gary Rosen, was in court, according to Runway’s lawyer Margolin.

Three days after that hearing, Mazzio and two Queens restaurateurs who prosecutors say also bribed Ulrich, hosted a $1,000-a-plate campaign fundraiser for Eric Adams, who’d already won the June Democratic primary and was expected to cruise to victory in November. They managed to raise $140,000 for the soon-to-be-Hizzoner.

James issued a ruling on Aug. 27, 2021. In a terse six-page written opinion, the judge wrote, “The court is persuaded that…the denial of renewal, is too harsh in this instance.”

Runway Towing employees respond to the scene of an overturned cement truck in Queens in 2021. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Pritsinevelos

The judge noted Runway had been in operation for 17 years, including 14 years where the tow truck company “operated free of any adjudicated violations.” She declared, “the court finds the punishment of non-renewal shockingly grave in its consequences.”

Instead, the judge called for “lesser penalties that (DCA) has the discretion to impose,” including probation, in which Runway would submit invoices for all tows to DCA for review, refund customer overcharges, and pay a fine.

By the end of the de Blasio administration, DCA had taken no action. As of Jan. 1, 2022, any decision regarding Runway’s fate now shifted to the incoming Adams administration.

That’s when Mazzio’s push to get rid of Runway accelerated, prosecutors allege and records show.

On Jan. 14, Joseph Livreri claimed to an unnamed individual identified only as John Doe 1 that Ulrich had “recommended a candidate for ‘Consumers’,” a reference to DCWP, prosecutors alleged. John Doe 1 responded “that’s a big deal for Mike,” referring to Mazzio.

On Jan. 29, 2022, Joseph Livreri and Mazzio “had series of conversations with each other and ‘Mayor Adams’ Chief Advisor in an attempt to get authorization for Mike’s Heavy Duty Towing to tow from NYC’s highways during a snowstorm and to convince Mayor Adams’ Chief Advisor and other high ranking NYC officials to remove a competing tow truck company from its arterial towing contract,” the indictment alleged. 

Ingrid Lewis-Martin is Adams’ chief advisor and Runway was the company in question.

Mayoral adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin speaks at City Hall, May 19, 2022. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A week later, on Feb. 7, 2022, Adams announced the appointment of Vilda Vera Mayuga as commissioner of DCPW.

Said Adams spokesperson Lutvak: “Mayor Adams never spoke to Mr. Ulrich about a candidate for DCWP commissioner that Mr. Ulrich was allegedly putting forward. While we do not discuss private conversations, to avoid speculation, the mayor has not received any requests from the Manhattan DA surrounding this matter and has never spoken to Mr. Ulrich about this investigation.”

Lutvak did not address questions from THE CITY about the conversations with Lewis-Martin.

James Froccaro, an attorney for Mazzio, declined to comment.

‘All This Corruption Is Coming to Light’

On June 27, 2022, Ulrich, Joseph Livreri and Mazzio met with John Doe #1 and Mayor’s Chief Advisor at Philippe Chow on East 60th Street, according to the indictment.

At that point, the de Blasio administration had appealed James’ decision but took no further action before de Blasio left. In early January the courts’ appellate division weighed in, essentially declaring that discretion on what to do with Runway’s license remained with DCPW.

A spokesperson for DCPW, Michael Lanza, noted that the effort to deny Runway a license began under de Blasio, and stated in an emailed response to THE CITY’s questions that in appellate court “upheld our actions based on Runway’s numerous overcharges.”

Lanza wrote that Runway and Mazzio “have a demonstrated history of overcharging and DCWP does not allow businesses to prey on consumers.” He noted that Mazzio’s company continues to be allowed to tow disabled vehicles in the city due to ongoing litigation.

By mid-January, Runway had received its formal denial. Runway’s owner, Pritsinevelos, said the NYPD didn’t formally terminate his highway tow agreement until a few days later at midnight. That afternoon, he says, Mazzio personally called up his company and taunted a supervisor, asking, “Who do we call for towing after midnight?”

Pritsinevelos says he’s now out of business, selling his tow trucks to pay his mortgage and trying to open a vehicle repair shop in Queens called Runway Collision Specialists. In July, DCPW rejected his application for a tow truck license he requested for that business. This month, Mazzio was indicted.

When he learned that the sweeping bribery scheme included Mazzio’s efforts to pressure City Hall to stop doing business with his company, he was both shocked and grateful.

“It never made any sense, going to every court, saying, ‘Why this is happening?’” Pritsinevelos said. “All this corruption is coming to light. You can’t imagine how I feel. There’s a God. There’s justice.”