By Lookout Staff
February 9 -- The City has hauled three towing companies
into court recently in an effort to curb illegal towing practices
in Santa Monica.
The City recently completed its prosecution of Classic Towing and
filed criminal charges against Competition Tow Service for illegal
towing practices, according to the City Atorneys office. It also
brought charges against Williams Tow & Impound, which pleaded
The small companies were cruising the City, usually late at night,
looking for vehicles parked in private lots after hours, according
to the City Attorneys office. In some cases, the drivers had left
the vehicles to get money from an ATM machine or grab a cup of coffee.
The three prosecutions, along with joint efforts among law enforcement
groups, are part of the City’s Consumer Protection Unit’s
continuing efforts to curb illegal towing, City officials said.
“Seeking the closure of a towing outfit is our very last
resort, but if an owner sees the hook on the back of his truck as
a license to steal, then he will have to be shut down,” said
Gary Rhoades, the attorney who handled the cases for Santa Monica.
Last week, Classic Towing (aka Hook It Up Towing) and its owners
Jesse and Blanca Lopez entered into plea agreements with the City
at the LAX Courthouse.
After pursuing Classic and its owners for several years in multiple
prosecutions and administrative actions, the company was charged
with attempted extortion, towing a vehicle without written authorization
and operating without a business license, Rhoades said.
Under the plea agreement, the business will be permanently shut
down, and the owners will pay a total of $5,000 -- $2,500 for restitution
of victims and $2,500 to the City’s Consumer Protection Fund,
In a second case, Competition Tow Service was charged with two
towing infractions, including refusing to accept payment by credit
card and charging an excessive rate, City officials said.
The company also was charged with one misdemeanor for taking a
vehicle without the consent of the owner, Rhoades said. The case
is in pretrial proceedings.
In the third case, Williams Tow & Impound and its owner William
Amaya pleaded no contest on December 13, 2006 to charges of towing
vehicles without the written authorization of the property owner
and refusing to accept credit card payments, City officials said.
The terms of the agreement with Williams Tow include barring the
company from any towing in Santa Monica and requiring it to give
notice to all employees regarding all towing laws, Rhoades said.
The company, which will be on City attorney probation for one year,
also will be fined $1,000 and focered to pay another $1,000 to the
Consumer Protection Fund, he said. The victims were reimbursed during
The comprehensive probation packages are a good way to curb illegal
practices, Rhoades said.
“Probation terms that tightly control towing practices and
include training of drivers and dispatchers should go a long way
in improving Williams Tow’s compliance,” said Rhoades.
Under a new state law, it is illegal to tow a vehicle without written
authorization from a property owner for that particular tow, Rhoades
In the Williams Tow case, for example, the prosecution alleged
that the tow company towed a victim’s car from a Blockbuster
Parking lot before business hours, even though Blockbuster had not
authorized the tow, he said.
The only exception to this rule occurs when the vehicle is blocking
another vehicle or interfering with an exit or entrance, Rhoades
The state law also bars towing a vehicle after its owner returns
to the vehicle and charging rates in excess of those approved by
the California Highway Patrol.
In addition, the law prohibits failing to accept a credit card
for payment of towing services and towing a vehicle before a one-hour
grace period expires.
Under tougher towing laws that went into effect on January 1, 2007,
most of the towing crimes that used to be infractions are now misdemeanors.
The towing laws were also amended to regulate tows from private
properties, such as condominium associations.
Any Santa Monica consumers who believe they are victims of illegal
tows should contact the City Attorney’s office at 310-458-8336.