Saturday, November 29, 2008

Towing Laws In The State Of Hawaii Photo

With a little more digging, I was able to turn up the particular non-consent towing law in Hawaii, which is HRS 290-11, click here for a link.

The law has some major strengths and some fatal weaknesses...

...and, in my opinion, here they are:

STRENGTH: Caps charges at $65 for a tow, $75 with a dolly, plus caps mileage and storage fees.

WEAKNESS: The law doesn't account for a situation where a towing company sets up shop on distant "Sand Island," possibly for the purpose of maximizing mileage fees. There needs to be a "mileage cap."

STRENGTH: Mandatory free drop after hooking if vehicle owner arrives on the scene. No doubt the law's biggest strength, and a model for other states, cities and counties to follow. (It does have an exception for hookups in an above or below ground, multilevel facility, which is still only a $30 drop fee)

WEAKNESS: No penalty outlined for violating this section of the law.

STRENGTH: Fifteen days after being towed, the legal owner and registered owner shall be notified in writing by registered or certified mail. Hey, at least some kind of written notification is required.

WEAKNESS: Fifteen days? Are you KIDDING me? If people don't come and fetch their car after 3 days, there is clearly a problem. Furthermore, this law is more archaic every day. Notification by phone and email should be required, too.

STRENGTH: Judgment and lawyer fees for excess charges. Not bad.

WEAKNESS: Who is going to hire a lawyer over a few hundred bucks in towing overcharges? The law should mandate much more severe fines and penalties.

STRENGTH: Before disposing of a vehicle after 30 days, notice is required in a newspaper of general circulation in the state. You can call this a strength because SOMETHING is required, but, come on!

WEAKNESS: Legal notice in a NEWSPAPER? Increasingly, this is an utterly archaic form of communication. All legal notices should be published on the internet.

STRENGTH: Towing companies must "accommodate payment" by cash, credit card OR (note the word "or") automated teller machine located on the premises.

WEAKNESS: Yeah, I'm sure they'll be raking in some major fees off that automated teller machine. This is a huge loophole for abuse.

STRENGTH: There is an opportunity for counties to adopt their own ordinances regulating towing operations.

WEAKNESS: What is going to make the counties do THAT except numerous abuses by towing companies?

WEAKNESS, WEAKNESS, WEAKNESS: The law does not require towing data to be electronically accessible to owners, police, towing companies, insurance companies, and all others with a stake in the fate of the vehicle. Instead, it relies on archaic notification mechanisms like CERTIFIED LETTERS and notification in (how quaint!) the legal notices of a newspaper. This law needs to be reformed before predatory towing cuts deeply into Hawaii's all-important tourism industry.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Predatory Towing Victims Sue City Of Chicago... Photo

And it's about time, I say.

Reporter Pam Zekman of CBS appears to have a strong interest in predatory towing issues, and she has spurred reform of Chicago's filth-filled sewer of corrupt towing practices. She's been mentioned on this blog before, click here. Now Zekman's most recent article continues to dish up the dirt, click here.

It turns out corrupt Chicago cops were on the take for years...

...allegedly, and took bribes in return for "vouching" for towing companies. This practice is against police department policy, even if the towing companies are GOOD, but in this case the companies shook people down for outrageous amounts of inflated fees. According to Zekman's article, police internal affairs and FBI knew about what was happening for YEARS.

So why did the police allow citizens to keep getting taken to the cleaners, just to catch a few crooked cops?

I might point out very similar questions were asked in the Boyton Beach, California matter, click here, where investigators kept racking up felony charges...but, in the meantime, citizens were being illegally towed. Why was that allowed to continue? And do the folks in Boynton Beach have a lawsuit similar to these citizens of Chicago?

In any case, Pam Zekman is my hero. Well, my heroine.

Keep up the great work, Ms. Zekman.

Predatory Towing On The Island Paradise Of Hawaii Photo

In Hawaii, according to state law as related in this recent "legal advice" article, click here, towing companies can only charge $65 for a tow, or $75 for a tow involving a dolly. They are allowed to charge $7.50 per mile. So you have to wonder how, exactly, a guy who got towed "just around the corner" on Cooke Street paid $145 cash!

I'll bet that...

...he's wondering the same thing.

Here are some other aspects of the law I want to highlight, with credit to the article:

* Storage rates are capped at $25 per day, or a fraction thereof, for the first 7 days, and $20 per day after that.

* Mandatory free drop! If you reach your car while the tower is hooking up the vehicle, he must unhook it, without charge. This is something ALL STATES AND CITIES SHOULD ADOPT and I'm sure glad I've found Hawaii as an example that can be cited.

Why is Hawaii like this? I'm guessing Hawaii is very conscious of its tourist industry, and knows a bad experience means somebody won't be coming back to spend their money. If only other cities and states could be this bright.

* The towing companies must provide a receive stating the maximum towing charges allowed by law, and the telephone number of a consumer information service. All I can say!

* Towing companies must make payment convenient by cash, credit card or automated teller machine located on the premises. Requiring only cash payments is against the law.

Online Comments Provide Substantive Info

It's hard work mining streams of online comments for any kind of worthwhile info; so often online comments degenerate into stupid and pointless discussions about race, religion, and the superiority of red versus blue. But, in this case, some good information actually turned up, pretty and gleaming, in the bottom of my gold-mining pan.

It seems there is a company called ACE Towing on Makepono Drive. They are out on a place called "Sand Island," so the only way to get there is a $40 taxi ride from downtown or the bus. The bus only goes as far as "OCCC," whatever that is, so after that you have to walk 4 miles.

Then ACE Towing says "only cash." This according to an online commenter called "Dude Aloha Joe," and it is unconfirmed.

Filling In The Towing Utopia National Map

I was worried I'd never see a towing story from Hawaii, and this state would remain terra incognito on my national map. But, it appears, predatory towing is even present in what is supposedly an "island paradise." And this during the very week when I saw my first Hawaii State Quarter.

Trailer Court Violence Over Predatory Towing In Bluffton, South Carolina Photo

Bluffton, South Carolina isn't a very big place, but it sure seems to be making a name for itself in the media when it comes to predatory towing. I'd just recently blogged about a guy who wrote to the local paper, complaining about what he'd endured in Bluffton, click here.

Now, according to a recent article, click here, a tow truck driver/company owner took 10 inches of knife blade into his body at an...

...apartment complex called "Shady Glen Mobile Home Park," where "residents and property management have an ugly, ongoing dispute about parking enforcement." Preston Oates, the owner of "Pro Tow," was confronted by more than one tenant of "the home on Shady Glen Circle."

No charges have yet been filed.

This situation sounds a bit like the "Abbey Court Uprising" in North Carolina, where the mayor of the town was forced to dramatically intervene...on the side of the tenants.

Violence is wrong...but hardly unpredictable when people feel oppressed and trampled upon.

Calling Out Predatory Towing In Ridgewood, New Jersey Photo

A blogger who concentrates on issues in and around Ridgewood, New Jersey, recently produced what I consider a "classic post" on predatory towing, click here...

First of all, he provided the specifics of the incident from his source, and included photos.

Secondly, he provided information about New Jersey's recent law, a matter I've blogged about before, click here, and allowed the incident to be contrasted with the specifics of the law.

Third, his blog post had a comments function enabled, which allowed individuals to come forward with all kinds of nitty-gritty information, right down to whether a local church-goers had been getting a break in that particular parking lot for a long time.

If all local bloggers were doing posts like this, it would save me a lot of work! Of particular interest is prominent use of the phrase "predatory towing." This phrase, when Googled, is like a key that unlocks treasure-troves of information about this issue, info which inevitably raises the consciousness of the reader and leaves them to wonder: why isn't our nation doing more to put a stop to predatory towing?

Student Newspaper Exposes Predatory Towing Problems In Maryland Photo

"The Diamondback" is a student newspaper, but still provided a high-quality article on predatory towing last month, click here, which revealed up to 60 percent of Maryland's towing companies might be considered "rogue towers."

In Maryland, most laws about towing are...

...left up to county governments, according to reporter Brady Holt, and this appears to be creating a regulatory hole which allows aggressive "snatch-and-grabbers" who "call themselves towing companies simply because they own a tow truck." Even the president of "Towing and Recovery Professionals of Maryland" sees a problem.

Kansas City, Missouri Wakes Up To Predatory Towing Photo, City Hall, Kansas City, Mo.

When I see the phrase "predatory towing" actually used in a headline, I know America's consciousness about this issue is starting to increase, as was the case in a recent article from Kansas City, Missouri, click here.

Notably, not everybody in...

...Kansas City thinks there is a problem with predatory towing. A blog devoted to issues in Kansas City suggested naive, rube-like citizens need some kind of primer in "Big City Parking 101," click here.

Well, I think that particular blog post is just wrong-headed and, further, the blogger projects a little too much of a sense of jaded, cosmopolitan superiority. Where is that blogger from, and what big city tales does "William Rockhill Nelson" have to tell to convince me of his savvy about "big city parking?" I say "predatory towing" is a big city issue, but I don't see any evidence Mr. Nelson has even HEARD of it.

It's pretty clear from recent articles in the Kansas City Star that predatory towing practices have indeed become a problem, and it unfortunately coincides with a "revival" of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, at outlined in this article, click here.

You really have to wonder how long any city's "downtown revival" can last if word gets out about sneaky, predatory towing. Some complaints concern warning signs not properly displayed and tow truck drivers lying in wait to snatch cars.

Some proposals for the a new anti-predatory towing ordinance include requiring towing companies to accept credit cards, and capping fees. I hope before the ordinance gets passed, Kansas City might look to some other cities for ideas, like ideas about required signage. Many of those ideas are documented on this blog.

The Kansas City Star is supportive of reform, warning public officials in an editorial that if visitors have negative experiences downtown, they might not come back, click here.

Predatory Towing Experience Becomes A Work Of Art Photo

I've seen citizens turn their towing horror stories into an expressive, interesting series of photos on before, click here for an example. Oh, and here, too.

But this is the first time I've seen...

...anybody create an actual work of art with a theme of suffering centered on a predatory towing experience.

It's too bad I don't have the resources to sponsor a contest and award prizes!

Welcome To Chicago, Please Proceed Directly To The Impound Lot To Retrieve Your Vehicle Photo

As I illustrate my blog posts with linked images to, I find myself searching with terms like "Chicago" and "impound lot." Constantly, I seem to turn up little photos stories of misery, and here is yet another one...

The image above is from an album of photos showing a family's visit to Chicago. Their very first day was spent at the impound lot.

I assume they'll think twice about returning to Chicago.

Details On The Illinois "Truth In Towing" Law Photo

The Illinois "Truth In Towing" law has been a reality for a few months, and seems to be working with only a few minor snags. The intention of the law was to stop corruption, including police taking bribes and tow truck operators shaking down drivers for huge fees after towing away wrecks at accident scenes...

I do try to make my blog as much of a "one stop shop" for predatory towing issues as possible, and that's one reason I want to link to this article, click here. It contains a PDF file of the entire law, which "policy wonks" might find useful as they scrutinize their own towing laws with the intention of reform.

The Opposite Of Predatory Towing: Humanitarian And Merciful Towing

Photo By John Hoff

It has never been my intention to rip on tow truck operators constantly, or to only emphasize the bad while ignoring the good. So I want to go out of my way to publicize something really good happening in Kerrville, Texas...

Midway Wrecker is once again offering free tows during the holiday season for people who've had too much to drink, according to this article in, which has been "serving the Texas Hill Country since 1910."

And speaking of serving for a long time...Midway Wrecker has been doing this public service FOR THE LAST 17 YEARS! Every holiday season, according to reporter Rayanne Schmid, the company helps 25 to 30 people.

Matthew Morris, a supervisor with the company, says the effort is worthwhile if it keeps just one person out of the hospital, or out of a coffin.

Though this blog is dedicated to raising consciousness about predatory and abusive towing, I am very glad to see the exact opposite phenomenon, which I hereby dub HUMANITARIAN AND MERCIFUL TOWING.

Bribery Allegation In The "Springfield Towing Alliance" Scandal Photo, Springfield City Hall

The fun never ends in Springfield, Massachusetts, where allegations recently surfaced of an attempted bribe by president of "The Towing Alliance," according to this article, click here.

But I have to wonder if...

...this was not, in fact, some desperate last-ditch tactic by The Towing Alliance. Is it possible the Towing Alliance is throwing around allegations of graft and corruption on the part of public officials, and this was actually some kind of HALF-BAKED STING ATTEMPT BY THE TOWING ALLIANCE?

We know for a fact the FBI is involved in the controversy, click here, but it seems like everybody (except me) is assuming the FBI is there to investigate the Towing Alliance.

Well, I sure hope that's the case. I hope the FBI is all over the Towing Alliance "like white on rice." And I think the odds favor that conclusion, considering how corrupt The Towing Alliance is alleged to be.

But I say all we know for sure is the FBI is talking to the Towing Alliance. And that's all we will know until more news comes out. As for myself, I'm hoping that Christmas will arrive in a timely way, or possibly even a bit early, with some kind of news release about a federal indictment involving the Towing Alliance or--if it comes down to it--any public official who may have been in bed with The Alliance, and broke the law.

Or both.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Desperate For Details In The Wake Of An FBI Raid In St. Louis Photo

Like the reporter in Springfield, Massachusetts who couldn't get much information out of tight-lipped FBI officials, click here, the newspaper in St. Louis reported on the FBI seizing 26 vehicles from an impound lot, click here, but nobody seems to know why...

Nobody who is saying anything, anyway.

Online comments posted with the article--the ones who somehow managed to stay focused on relevant, non-theological topics--included some substantive remarks, but I found one of the remarks more substantive than all the others:

It's no wonder St. Louis can't manage to get major conventions. Gee, and you wonder why?

The image above is the St. Louis Convention Center. I can't help but notice nobody is parked out front.

Oh, another good remark: thank goodness for courageous journalism which exposes this kind of government scandal.

FBI Involvement In The St. Louis, Missouri S&H Towing Scandal Photo,
St. Louis Impound Lot

No sooner have I finished blogging about the FBI's sudden involvement in the Springfield, Massachusetts situation, click here, when there is publicity about the agency's actions with the ongoing S&H Towing mess in St. Louis...

Currently, KTVI is reporting FBI agents were "scattered all over the property," which KTVI could observe from a news helicopter, click here for details.

As I reported before when blogging about this situation, click here, the St. Louis FBI is asking anyone with a vehicle towed in the last five years to complete a brief survey on their website.

In the meantime, KVTI continues to provide great coverage of this predatory towing scandal, with more than half a dozen stories on their website.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

FBI Involvement In The Springfield, Massachusetts "Towing Alliance" Scandal Photo,
J. Edgar Hoover Building

Ever since reading Peter Goonan's most recent article in The Republican, I've been trying to figure out what FBI Agent William T. Wittrock is doing in the middle of the mess with the Springfield Massachusetts Towing Alliance, an ongoing scandal which has hit this blog a few times...

Goonan didn't have a lot of info from the meeting, though not for lack of trying. So he wrote what he observed without adding speculation, exactly the way I used to teach my journalism students. And here is what Goonan observed:

1.) Agent Wittrock attended the Friday meeting of the Springfield city councilors and sat next to Towing Alliance President Robert L. Jones.

2.) Wittrock spoke to Jones in private after the meeting.

3.) The supervisor of the Springfield FBI office (how convenient to have one right in town!) isn't saying why Wittrock was there.

Reporter Peter Goonan, who deals in facts and not opinion, can't speculate. But I'm a blogger, and I can speculate.

And so I will. I did some digging about FBI Agent William T. Wittrock, and here is what I came up with. It's thin, but I think I reeled in a fish worth keeping.

White Collar Crime Involving Government Entities In Massachusetts

It's important to distinguish William T. Wittrock from the other folks who share the same name without the middle initial. There is a porn director named William Wittrock, but it's obviously not the same guy. The FBI special agent probably uses his middle initial for a very good reason, and I'm guessing the OTHER William Wittrock has something to do with it.

First of all, William T. Wittrock is--as one would expect of an FBI agent--a member of our nation's "best and brightest." In 1996, he won the first "Watt Award" at Canisius College. The award is given to recognize an "outstanding Communication Studies graduate." The brief article, click here, reveals Wittrock graduated from Canisius College in 1986, and by 1996 was working at the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

A scholarly document about earthquakes which Wittrock helped to produce is found online, too, entitled "Preliminary Reports From The Hyogo-ken Nambu Earthquake of January 17, 1995."
Wittrock was the Graphic Design person who helped produce the article.

At some point, Wittrock ended up working for the FBI. And that's where things get really interesting. Wittrock, who once (apparently) studied the dry, technical details of earthquakes, now digs into sex, lies, and the dirty cash of white collar crime. (Hmmm, you have to wonder if the OTHER William Wittrock might be a cousin from a common ancestor)

A "Zoom Info" profile on William T. Wittrock contains a link to an article in the Boston Herald, published January 20, 2005. The article is no longer online, but a snippet printed on Zoom Info names Wittrock as the FBI's lead investigator in "the MCDI case," and says he testified about something involving "time sheets submitted with Ortiz's name."

Using "MCDI" and "Ortiz" as search terms, the details of this scandal turn up quickly enough, and it happened right in Springfield, Massachusetts. According to this article, click here, Springfield's former police commissioner--Gerald Phillips--was found guilty of stealing thousands of dollars from a city-run job training school. The scam involved "no show" jobs, including one for a muffin wrapper who didn't show up for work, but received rent, utilities and grocery bill payments in exchange for providing sex to Gerald Phillips.

And much, much more.

So the FBI was in the middle of THAT mess, and so was Agent William T. Wittrock. The agent's name also comes up in a 2007 story about bus monitor jobs for special needs students, click here. The jobs were "no show" jobs where a paycheck was collected, but no work was done.

So we have the beginnings of a pattern: in two instances, Wittrock was involved in investigation of funds diverted from government entities; a city run jobs program and a school transportation program.

I'm guessing Wittrock is investigating some of the same allegations with the Towing Alliance mess.

Where The Speculative Rubber Meets The Road Of Reality

But now, having lined up my facts, I have an opportunity to speculate. First of all, the FBI doesn't just wander into a case. Somebody in authority calls the FBI, providing evidence of the need to get the agency involved. In the case of the towing alliance, a lot of financial records fell into the hands of the city, and money didn't add up. So it's possible somebody in the city contacted the FBI.

But there's another possibility. Maybe it was the Towing Alliance who contacted the FBI. The Towing Alliance is fighting for its life, and it's just POSSIBLE (I'm not saying LIKELY) the leadership of the Springfield Towing Alliance has information about payoffs being diverted, possibly even to public officials. In the unsavory position of fighting for its life, the Towing Alliance is likely to spill all the dirt, and let the chips fall where they may.

Only one fact makes me think in this way: William T. Wittrock sat NEXT TO Towing Alliance President Robert T. Jones at the public meeting.

Was this just an aggressive G-man approach to contact Jones, who was sure to be at that meeting? Sure, it's possible. Like an 800-pound gorilla, the FBI sits wherever it wants.

But usually, people who sit NEXT TO each other are communicating, cooperating. If I considered somebody a suspect, I'd be more likely to sit BEHIND them, or a few seats away where I could keep an eye on 'em. But then's not always possible to have a choice of seats at a public meeting. Who knows?

This much I'm sure of: we haven't heard the last of this. And I'd bet a bucket of used axle grease that word will come of an FBI investigation involving towing in Springfield, if not by the end of this year then early in the next year.

All of this just underscores my ultimate point: transparency and accountability is the only way to get the graft out of the towing industry, in Springfield or anywhere else.

But another piece of good advice: don't practice white collar crime in a city where there's an FBI headquarters. They won't have far to walk to start an investigation. And, hey, with a new president who captured the votes of the poor and the downtrodden...maybe it's the worst of all times to be involved in predatory towing scams. I hope so.

EXTREME AND MASSIVE Predatory Towing Ring Busted In Boyton Beach, Florida Photo

It always does my heart good to see a predatory towing scam busted by police, but this one in Boynton Beach, Florida was OFF THE SCALE. According to this article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, (click here) a family-run towing business faces 500 charges, including 390 felonies.

I have to wonder... there a death penalty for predatory towing? Believe me when I say many anonymous on-line comments were suggesting it in the chat threads of the Sun Sentinel.

According to reporter Dianna Cahn, police say the owners of Access Express Towing and Transport were removing signs in a lot on the 1100 block of North Federal Highway. They'd remove the signs and swipe cars, actually driving their tow truck the wrong way on Federal Highway to be even MORE sneaky. (I sincerely hope they are charged with a raft of traffic tickets on top of everything else)

This happened 90 times over a period of 6 months. So why didn't police act faster once they had documentation of what was happening? Numerous online commentators are asking the same question in the threads of the Sun Sentinel. It's a fair question, especially since these bloodsuckers were charging "between $55 and $335 for people to retrieve the cars."

To make matters worse, the owner of the parking lot didn't even know this was happening. So, hopefully, dozens of counts of trespassing can be tossed on top of all the other charges.

POLICE ARE SEEKING INFORMATION FROM VICTIMS. Dianna Cahn's article contained this contact information, but clearly the Boynton Beach Police would like the info promulgated, so here goes: Anyone who had their vehicle towed from that parking lot by Access Express Towing is asked to call 561-742-6827 or Crime Stoppers at 561-458-8477.

Taken For A Ride At The Texas State Fair By Predatory Towing Photo

Amanda Miller was one of a number of people (allegedly) scammed by Lone Star Auto Services at the Texas State Fair, and she said so in an online forum. Amanda also said anybody who wanted the details about this now-infamous incident could contact her. So...

I sent Amanda an email, and soon enough she wrote her first person account and forwarded it.

Here it is.

WE DROVE FROM OKLAHOMA CITY TO DALLAS on Friday, October 10 for the OU/Texas game. We had a great time the night before. We hit the sports bars in the area, partied with people from "both sides of the fence," and attended the rally in the West End Marketplace. Best night I had in a long time.

The next morning we left our hotel at 8:30 thinking we had plenty of time to make it to the game, which had an 11 a.m. kickoff. The exit we needed to get off on was closed, so we had to drive an additional two miles. Once there, we were directed by police to parking areas; coming around a corner we were waived into a lot by five men in orange vests. We paid our $10 to park and headed to the game.

At around 8 p.m., we left the fairgrounds to head to our car and leave. We planned on hitting the bars that night to mingle with everybody else. After walking--on my bad foot, I might add, I had surgery on my left foot a week before the game--almost a mile to the lot we parked in, we were in for a rude surprise. The lot was completely empty, including our car, and there was now a "No Parking--Violators Will Be Towed By Lone Star Auto" with their phone number on it.

Panicking, I called the number and got a busy signal for about ten minutes....

(Editor's note: right here is where a website would have been handy, where individuals can just look up their cars online and not experience that whole minutes, hours, days of panic thing)

We had to hitch a ride with another parking attendant from another lot, since we didn't know where we were. They finally answered the phone, and promptly hung up on me.

Arriving at the lot, I immediately knew we were NOT in the wrong: there was a line of people all the way to the street, around 6 police cars, and a news van. I explained to the officer what happened (while crying!) who informed me I had the exact same story as all the others, and I needed to get in line.

After waiting 3-4 hours, I paid $200 (cash or debit only!) to get my vehicle out of impound. The woman behind the counter was rude and nasty, and we spent a good 30 minutes searching the lot for our vehicle because they couldn't tell us where it was.

The police stated they were there to keep the peace and couldn't file any reports because it was a domestic case. The newspapers the next day stated the police said people refused to file reports, so therefore nothing could be done--bull(expletive)!

Because so many people were scammed, this story made the headline news that Saturday night and the front page of the Dallas Morning News. I immediately went to work, calling anyone who would listen--newspapers, news casters, lawyers, City of Dallas.

The story a few days later said the company claimed they were not in the wrong, but other stories were dug up from the past about them. A news reporter from Channel 9 here in Oklahoma City went to my fiance's work for a story, and started contacting the company directly to get this taken care of.

I signed onto a class action lawsuit. The company called me--yes, called me!--and informed me that I was wasting my time, the towing company had nothing to do with this, etc.

I asked why, if they are the victims, too, weren't they even trying to cooperate with the attorneys, the city, etc? She hung up on me. Then, one day, the Texas Attorney General opened up an investigation on them--and we received a full refund in the mail. Well, it was actually $187--less than what I paid by $13, but I took that and shut up.

Would I go to the fair again? Yes, because up until that, I had a great time at the fair and at the game. Will I park there? NO! I will take the DART. Texas Towing is also still being investigated, the last I heard the Texas Department of License and Regulations was inspecting them for failure to cooperate.

Towing Utopia Dot Com says: Amanda, keep us informed of any new developments.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A "Barking Dog" Foreshadowed The Fall Of Lone Star Auto Services Photo

Long before the City of Dallas yanked their towing license, (which is being appealed on December 4) way before the Texas State Attorney General launched an investigation of their unseemly business practices, it was possible to see trouble was a-brewin' with Lone Star Auto Services...

Here is an example from RipOff Report Dot Com, click here, which detailed a dubious and expensive tow-jacking of an 18-wheeler from a truck stop.

On, a service rather like "Merchant Circle Dot Com," Lone Star racked up two negative reviews, click here. There was actually no review on Merchant Circle, so I took care of that PERSONALLY, click here. Lone Star racked up a "zero percent like it" on a "best of the web local" site. The only poster to add a comment (before I did, that is) urged anybody reading to simply Google the company to find out more about their various scandals.

But the "Barking Dogs" blog probably picked up the scent of Lone Star before anybody else, check out this "blogger investigation" of Lone Star apparently towing from a parking lot without authorization, click here. If anything was "the writing on the wall," it was probably that investigation by Barking Dogs.

There have been TWENTY-ONE ARTICLES about this situation, and I'm sure that number will increase as the investigation unfolds. But who had their teeth in it first? The bloggers. The blogosphere. THE BARKING DOGS OF THE BLOGOSPHERE, BABY.

Harsh Texas Style Justice For "Lone Star Auto Services" Photo

When Lone Star Auto Services had its Dallas license revoked earlier this month, 21 news articles hit the internet. Seldom has...

...a disgraced towing company gone down so hard and in such a public way. Here is a sample of the news coverage, from the Dallas Morning News, click here.

I blogged about this situation when it first came to my awareness, after the Texas State Fair towing incidents, click here. A pattern quickly arose of upset Texas citizens making complaints and comparing notes, which I blogged about here, click, and also here, click.

Now, according to the Dallas News--and plenty of others!--city officials say this misconduct was a pattern for years. The State Attorney General is looking into the situation, too.

Appeal Process Gives Lone Star Some "Slack"

If Lone Star files an appeal, the company will have up to 60 days to operate while the appeal process is completed. They can also just reincorporate under a new name and license, unfortunately, so there is discussion about "tightening the rules" in Dallas. Such a tightening wouldn't be hard to anticipate: if you have a towing license revoked in Dallas, you or a company in which you own interest can't get another license in Dallas. FOREVER.

Well, OK, I guess the law can't say "forever." So how about...ten years? OK, I'll compromise.


Will Other Predatory Towers Reform?

Right now, the assistant director of City of Dallas Public Works And Transportation Department is saying the city isn't "targeting" anyone else, but what happened to Lone Star should be "taken as a message."

In my observation, such a "message" is useless. Not warnings, but only systemic changes root out abuse, and the best changes involve transparency: individuals being able to track towing in real time via the internet, and being able to access old data for investigation, if needed. This Lone Star situation could have never happened if the data about their (blatantly illegal) overcharges had been available online several years ago.

New York State Is Still Celebrating Its New Predatory Towing Law Photo

About a month ago, I wrote about a new law in New York that will ban "fee splitting" and other unethical practices. Media in New York State seem to be waking up to the reality of the new law, and... is an example of an article, click here, which can be described as "celebratory" of the law. One cool aspect of the article is the fact it recognizes the Oyster Bay Town Clerk who had the seminal idea for the law.

In the article, one state legislator actually used the phrase "held hostage by predatory towers" and he also said some companies have been involved in "luring" drivers to park in "forbidden" areas with inadequate NO PARKING signs. Under the new law the State Attorney General has the power to STOP BUSINESSES FROM PERFORMING SUCH PRACTICES and SEEK CIVIL DAMAGES.

More than a month later, it seems like New York State is still "dancing in the streets" over its victory. Good job, New York State.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Are Predatory Towing Companies Using Internet "Shills?" Photo

If you become VERY specialized, and you view certain highly-specific phenomenon on a daily basis, you start to notice interesting patterns nobody else sees...

Suddenly I'm seeing one of those patterns. I am convinced there are pro-predatory towing interests who are routinely using paid viral marketing "shills" to post comments like this one, right here:

"What problem ? Park illegally on private property that is posted and your car is private property impouded. (sic) What is the problem ? The towing companies have a contract with the property owner and that is the way it is. They do not just tow from where ever they want. They must have a contract with the property owner.Don't park your car like a freakin jerk and it won't get towed. Duh ?"

What gets my attention is the phrase "private property towing." I've seen this phrase tossed around as a kind of "push back" to individuals using the consciousness-raising phrase "predatory and abusive towing." In the comment streams of the various articles I turn up...all of which concern some aspect of predatory and abusive towing, or towing regulation...I keep coming across comments incredibly similar to the one above. Similar remarks keep getting posted on comment streams.

I've been noticing this for months...but also NOT noticing it. Unconsciously, I just figured in every towing discussion, there might be local predatory towers (or just plain negative, carping commentators) who jump into the discussion.

But now I'm realizing these comments are TOO SIMILAR and TOO WIDELY DISPERSED. It was the towing article about the situation in Tampa that woke me up. There's ONE COMMENT posted. One. Plus posting this comment requires a rather tedious registration process with the Tampa paper.

Either somebody has a lot of time on their hands at the towing dispatch office...or some entity earning money from predatory towing activities is actually COMPENSATING certain individuals to keep pouring comments into the internet, heaping abuse on the victims of predatory towing so they will think complaining, rising up, organizing, contributing their information to a blog like this one is just...stupid.

So I'm calling this out. I'm convinced shills are being employed, as they are employed with magic tricks or the classic "shell game" to fool the crowd and cheat victims.

When I see this happening, I plan to post my own comments and maybe link back to this particular blog post.

Tallahassee Sets Its Sights On Predatory Towing Photo

Hillsborough County, Florida, is contemplating a law to crack down on predatory towing companies, according to this article, (click here) and the sensible proposal has caught the attention of state legislators who represent Hillsborough County...

Word is NUMEROUS COMPLAINTS about "patrol towing" in front of restaurants and bars has sparked the proposal, and the proposed bill would allow the county's Transportation Commission to "go after these guys and take their license away," alleviating a tremendous enforcement burden on the Tampa Police Department and the sheriff's office.

Hopefully, the Transportation Commission would be open to some other transparency in the towing process, with vehicle data available on the internet. Once the big, ugly problem of aggressive "patrol towing" is licked, one begins to see a plethora of smaller issues associated with towing, issues which also need solving.

Beyond the City of Tampa, there is the rest of Florida to consider. I don't know if anybody outside of Orlando was paying attention to the ugly situation in that city, but links to a number of articles about that situation were collected on this blog. Clearly, Florida's problem is bigger than Tampa or, for that matter, Tampa as well as Orlando.

The blog of Sean Cruz in Portland, Oregon cries out against the practice of "patrol towing," which is actually against the law in both Washington State and Oregon, according to Cruz. Maybe the State of Florida will soon follow suit. I hope so.

North Minneapolis Tow Truck Driver Assaulted. Yes, Again.

Or Not. Photo

This happens every so often in North Minneapolis, and I blogged about it before, click here. But it has happened yet again...

Word comes to me, as it usually does, through the "Fourth Precinct Highlights" which go out weekly by email, and cover notable criminal incidents in North Minneapolis. (Other parts of Minneapolis have their "Precinct Highlights," too, but are they as cool as North Minneapolis? I doubt it)

So here is what went down a couple weeks ago, according to the police:

ROBBERY 34TH & PENN TUESDAY 2010 HOURS 08-333418 Tow truck driver robbed by three 19-22 year old Males when he arrived to pickup a tow. One suspect put a gun to his head and made him lay on the ground, another had a second gun and suspects went through his pockets taking his phone and keys.

I should say it's very interesting they took the tow truck driver's PHONE and KEYS but not a WALLET or any MONEY. It's almost like the three males wanted to stop the tow, and they wanted to get away without the police being called, but robbery was NOT the motive. Furthermore, did they beat the living daylights out of him? There is no indication this tow truck driver had a FINGER laid on him.

I do not approve of criminal actions. But if you push people too far, for too long, and try to snatch their precious possessions away from them on some stupid technicality...some people will rise up and fight back. YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE of why it would be good to have a system which notifies citizens by cellphone and email, simultaneously, of an impending tow so they can "move it or lose it."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Towing Companies Are Truly "Cleaning Up" In Boston Photo

An opinion columnist at the esteemed Boston Globe was RIGHT ON with a commentary about towing companies "cleaning up" during street sweeping and...

...lording over improperly parked cars like these towing companies are acting on behalf of Homeland Security, or something. Here is the column, click here.

Yes, it's more than a year old. But guess what? These problems haven't changed in all that time, and no new solutions have been applied.

Why can't cities notify vehicle owners of an impending tow by phone and email? What's up with this crude, archaic system of hanging paper on doorknobs? Local governments can do better. Well, apparently Boston barely even does THAT much, (hanging notices on doorknobs) and Boston citizens are paying a heavy price.

Meanwhile, shills for the towing companies submit online comments about, oh gee, citizens who don't move their car for several days deserve whatever they get, and these shills rip into a fine opinion piece by a columnist who obviously cares about her city.

An All-Too-Typical Towing Scandal In Salinas, California Photo

The situation in Salinas, California is so familiar, so common that I actually spent quite some time searching my own blog to make sure I hadn't already written something. But, nope, it's yet another juicy California towing scandal, and the details are in this article, click here.

Yes, it's all so sweetly, achingly familiar. (And here's another version of the same story, from another publication.) Ah, yes, here we have the...

...outraged owner of a rough-and-tumble towing company, accused of contract violations, but he's saying it's ALL A CONSPIRACY by authorities in cahoots with another towing company. Accusations are made by the unpopular towing entity, and the mess ends up in court. The accusations are detailed, seemingly plausible, but what is ultimately proven? When pigs throw mud at each other, at the end of the day they're still all pigs wallowing in mud. And the whole towing industry, all over America, is rife with lucrative corruption and dangerously unregulated.

Why does this story in Salinas, California remind me SO MUCH of the situation in Springfield, Massachusetts with the Towing Alliance? Honestly, it's like watching a sci-fi movie about good guys fighting an "evil empire" and realizing, gee, haven't I seen this same plot before with different actors?

Ugly Highlights, If You Wanna Call 'Em That

Here are some of the more noteworthy and disturbing elements of this particular scandal, according to both the articles.

* The owners of Century Towing, Angel Garcia, Senior and Junior, and damage claims are estimated at a quart of a million dollars.

* Nine companies, including Century, paid the city as much as $18,000 a year to be in a rotation for vehicles the police wanted towed. The companies are called in alphabetical order. However, it appears there was favoritism showed to a company owned by a police officer who also--wouldn't you know it?--was involved in supervising towing. These accusations hold water because the officer has, in fact, been HARSHLY disciplined by the police department for conflicts of interest.

* "Outspoken" individuals who questioned conflicts of interest supposedly faced retaliation.

* But does any of this change the fact there were contractual violations by Century Towing? As of today, November 13, the Salinas Police Department STILL wants to kick Century off the rotation for using an unapproved driver and not providing workman's compensation insurance, among other things.

The Solution: Technology And Transparency

The old-fashioned "alphabetical clip board" isn't good enough. There should be a system for car owners, police, insurance companies, towing companies, etc., to track these vehicles. If there is favoritism being shown to one company, it will become apparent soon enough, because everybody will have easy access to the same data.

Yup, I've said it before. Plenty of times. But the thing's always the same sort of towing scandal themes, and the same solution applies over and over. I hope Salinas starts to "get it," because a quarter of a million dollars is a lot of money in this tough economy. Well, any kind of economy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Plea Bargain In Ames, Iowa Predatory Towing Fees Case Photo

I blogged about the situation in Ames, Iowa a while back, click here, and now it turns out justice has finally run its course...

It's not a very SATISFYING course. Click here to read the article.

So the way it shakes out: No jail time. No guilty plea. A bit of restitution. And the name "Mike Louis Auto Body Repair and Towing" is INFAMOUS if I have anything to say about it.

So, yeah, I went to "Merchant Circle Dot Com" and submitted a review about the plea bargain. I find this practice very satisfying. So often stuff is in the media about a bad business, but nobody submits a "Merchant Circle" review to make sure the information has an impact on consumer choices.

A commenter on this blog called it right: Mike Louis hadn't been in the position long enough to shake very much money out of the insurance companies.

On the bright side, the authorities caught him and they made him stop. Other cities and states should be so lucky. Sometimes these situations drag on for many years, and involve hundreds of thousands of dollars. The solution is simple: make towing systems transparent and accessible by internet to all concerned parties.

Just like there should be no "secret jails" in a democracy, there should be no "mysterious impounds" where your car--a symbol of liberty for Americans--has been snatched in the dark of night, and now you're not sure where to find it, while outrageous demands for ransom are put forth by people claiming lawful authority EXACTLY LIKE THIS JERK IN AMES, IOWA was claiming.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Springfield, Massachusetts Tries To Rise From Predatory Towing Issues Photo

I might be one of twelve people in the world to get excited over the final paragraph of reporter Peter Goonan's recent story in "The Republican," but...

...Springfield is in the midst of defeating an "evil empire" called "The Towing Alliance," and I've blogged about this four times already, here is the previous post, click. "The Towing Alliance" is currently trying to make a last-ditch comeback but it's looking pretty grim...and thank goodness!

Goonan's recent story about how "Springfield hires (are) set to go ahead" included a single paragraph about solving the predatory towing mess, as follows:

"The Police Department is also hiring a grants and contract specialist, who will be responsible for pursuing and overseeing grants and to serve as compliance officer for towing. Those responsibilities have been handled by other personnel including officers, said Sgt. John Delaney, aide to Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet."

I can understand the "towing compliance officer" may need to have other duties, and I'm glad to hear those duties consist of "grant writing" because that particular task requires somebody very sharp and detail-oriented. But the whole key to reforming this broken-down towing system is access to information, not mere "oversight" by somebody with a firm hand. The best oversight is to have many eyes watching the system, to have TRANSPARENCY as public administration folks like to say. Yes, I believe it. It's my "towing utopia gospel."

Any city could find itself in the same mess as Springfield. And many do. But seldom is there such a cool name involved. THE TOWING ALLIANCE! Wow. Who shall face down the evil of "The Towing Alliance?"

In this case, it is apparently "The Council."

Towing Company Employees Looted Fatal Crash Site Photo

According to a recent news report by KDKA in Pennsylvania, tow truck drivers looted numerous high-quality pocket knives at the... of a fatal truck crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. They gave some of the pocket knives to firemen as "souvenirs." The firemen later returned the pocket knives.

This, in my mind, differs greatly from the "lobster salvage incident" I blogged about in another post, click here. In fact, you might even call it "robbing the dead."

But,'s rough-and-tumble, dangerously unregulated industry. You see it all the time. What's surprising is not when it happens, but when it actually makes the news. I'm guessing this was mostly because it was such a large, valuable cargo of pocket knives plus it was the site of a fatal wreck. Otherwise, one is not likely to hear about minor acts of looting by tow truck drivers, which are pretty much a daily or even hourly occurrence.

And, then again, you have drivers that are honest and heroic.

Or sometimes even both!

With this unsavory incident, the State of Pennsylvania just hit my "towing utopia national map."

Monday, November 10, 2008

In Chicago, "The Cost Of Corruption Is Passed On To You, The Car Owner" photo

In Chicago, a tow truck driver wore a wire to document crooked cops involved fraud. According to this article in, the...

...wiretaps started "after CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman exposed widespread fraud in the towing industry two years ago."

This is a POORLY-REGULATED INDUSTRY and it INVITES FRAUD. A lot of this stuff that went down in Chicago couldn't have happened if towing data had been accessible to all parties--police, owners, insurance companies, municipalities--with a stake in towing.

So what did happen? Well, check out the article for the dirty details, but in summary: tow truck drivers had to pay police to get tows, cops selling guns to tow truck drivers, police asking tow truck drivers to steal cars and plant guns in vehicles, cops staging accidents for insurance fraud, and that kind of thing.

The costs were, according to the informant, passed on to the consumer.

All the evidence I see tells me Chicago is the tip of the iceberg. This kind of corruption happens where there isn't widespread oversight and shared data when it comes to towing.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Some "Predatory Towing Justice" In Riverside County, California photo

According to allegations reported by in this article, (click here) Desert Automotive Specialists were raided for an investigation that grew out of "several illegal tows" at One Quail Place Apartments in Palm Desert...

I've reported on this ship of fools called Desert Automotive Specialists in the past, click here for an example, but they just keep getting themselves in deeper. This is the same outfit accused of painting curbs red to justify illegal tows, an action that inspired me to write parody lyrics to the song "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones, click here for that blog post.

After reading the latest story, I have to are these folks still in business. Why doesn't Riverside County somehow regulate towing better and then YANK THE LICENSE OF THESE PREDATORY CLOWNS?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

He's Never Going To Bluffton, South Carolina Again After Predatory Towing Incident Photo (They're dressed as CRABS)

Though Richard P. Wampler said he had fun beyond his wildest expectations at the "Arts & Seafood Festival," according to this article, he's never going to stop and spend money in Bluffton, South Carolina again because after parking in a place where parking appeared to be allowed, he spent the day at the festival mingling, watching his daughter create a ceramic piece, presumably eating some sea food...and then when he came back, the place where he parked had paper "no parking" signs added and his car was gone. Getting the vehicle back cost $200.

Wampler wrote a letter saying, in so many words, he will never come back to Bluffton, South Carolina.

You know, I see this kind of thing all the time: "towed at the festival," I call it. It happens when a bunch of people gather at some happy, usually ANNUAL event such as the Texas State Fair or a crayfish boil. Those are two examples from this blog which immediately come to mind.

So people go to the FESTIVE THING, they come back and, whoah, their car is gone. And, amazingly, all their fun is gone, too. Fun is often our MEMORY of fun. We spend relatively little time actually having fun. We spend a lot of time REMEMBERING how much fun we had. So when a towing incident happens, it's like you just got robbed of all your fun, because of how the fun day ended.

I hope people keep on writing letters to the editor when these things happen, because it seems to be the only way some public officials take notice of the fact they just lost years and years of tourist dollars, because they can't call off their big, metal, abusive and predatory towing dogs.

Oh, also...this information adds yet another new state to the Towing Utopia national road map. (Do not click "Read More.")
(Do not click "Read More")