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City Hauls Towing Companies to Court

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 no contest.

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, Rhoades said.

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 investigation.

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 said.

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 said.

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.




“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.” Gary Rhoades




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