Turnpike pileup quite a haul for politically connected firm

Posted: February 21, 2014

A politically connected auto-towing and car-repair magnate in Bucks County is making quite a haul from last week's massive pileup on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Robert Leipziger, 58, of Langhorne, who owns Rob's Automotive & Collision Center in Bristol, has contracts with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and AAA to provide all towing and repair services on 45 miles of the turnpike, including the scene of Friday's chain-reaction accident that injured at least 25 people and closed the turnpike for eight hours.

Leipziger's fleet of tow trucks hauled 87 damaged cars, pickups, vans and SUVs, and six tractor-trailers, from the accident scene.

His crews cleared the road in about seven hours, towing broken and battered cars to several lots in Bucks County and allowing traffic to resume flowing on the eastern end of the turnpike.

His company will collect at least $125 from each of the vehicles' owners or their insurance companies, and $500 to $1,000 or more for each of the tractor-trailers, plus storage and salvage payments. That's about $14,000, depending on individual charges.

Some of the vehicles that can be repaired will be fixed at Leipziger's repair shop. And he buys and sells cars, too, for motorists looking to replace their vehicles.

Leipziger, who started fixing cars in his driveway at age 22, is a rags-to-riches success who has turned his knowledge of cars into an auto-business empire.

He now operates nine collision centers in Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, employs 200 people, runs about 80 tow trucks, and owns a $2 million collection of vintage muscle cars on display at his L.R.A Enterprises dealership in Bristol. And, he's a successful drag racer.

He is also a generous political donor.

Leipziger has contributed $138,000 over 14 years to Pennsylvania politicians, among them Gov. Corbett to former Gov. Ed Rendell, and including $43,700 to former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.), who served four years in federal prison on public-corruption charges.

Leipziger is a friend of Bucks County Republican power broker and Turnpike Commissioner Pasquale "Pat" Deon Sr.

And, according to sources, Leipziger employs at his dealership Mitchell Rubin, the former Turnpike Commission chairman who was convicted in the Fumo case and is charged in a turnpike "pay-to-play" corruption case scheduled to be tried in a Harrisburg court in August.

Leipziger declined to discuss his business or political contributions.

Leipziger first won a no-bid towing contract from the Turnpike Commission about 1990, and his current five-year contract was approved in 2010, turnpike officials said.

Because of the contract, Rob's Automotive also got the AAA contract to respond to the auto club's members on the same stretch of highway.

The 360-mile-long east-west turnpike is divided into 12 sectors, with a towing company awarded an exclusive contract by the Turnpike Commission for each sector. The 110-mile Northeast Extension has an additional four sectors.

The current contract makes Rob's Automotive the exclusive towing company for the 27-mile stretch between the Norristown interchange and the New Jersey border and the 18-mile stretch of the Northeast Extension between Mid-County and Lansdale, according to the Turnpike Commission.

That means Rob's Automotive trucks are dispatched by police or turnpike crews if there's an accident or breakdown on those stretches. (Motorists can request another tow company in the case of a mechanical breakdown, but in vehicle accidents Rob's Automotive is to be the "sole provider of such emergency services," the contract says.)

Last year, Rob's Automotive handled 5,169 calls for the Turnpike Commission, said William Capone, the turnpike's chief of communications and public relations.

Capone said Leipziger's political activity played no role in his contracts with the turnpike.

"Rob's has always been one of the top two or three outstanding roadside service providers for us," Capone said. "He has topline facilities and equipment. He has to, to perform the way he did on Friday."

Deon, who went to high school with Leipziger, said, "There are not many guys who have the equipment that guy has or can do what he can. Look at what he did Friday."

Deon said Leipziger had a contract with the turnpike before he became a turnpike commissioner.

Chester Hicks, regional roadside service manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the auto club has "had a very positive relationship with them over the years. . . . We've even got letters to our CEO recommending them."

The battered cars from Friday's multi-vehicle accident are parked on lots in Bristol and off Street Road, waiting for their owners to claim them or make arrangements to dispose of them.

Most of the cars are deemed total wrecks, said Rick Bright, Rob's body shop manager. Only a handful can be repaired, he said.


TOWING BY THE NUMBERS

45

Miles of the turnpike for which Rob's Automotive is the exclusive towing company.

87

Number of damaged cars, pickups, vans, and SUVs towed from Friday's chain-reaction accident. Six tractor-trailers also were involved.

$125

Minimum amount Rob's Automotive collects from each vehicle's owners or their insurance companies. The company also gets $500 to $1,000 for each of the tractor-trailers.

200

Number of people employed by Rob's Automotive at nine collision centers.

$138,000

Amount Robert Leipziger contributed to Pennsylvania politicians over 14 years.


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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