Towing Company Was "Holding Vehicles" for "Ransom," City Attorney Says

Towing Company Was "Holding Vehicles" for "Ransom," City Attorney Says

Towing companies have a lot of power. They can snatch your car from private property and explain why later. Meanwhile the towing and storage fees will add up, and the burden of proof is on you to determine vehicular innocence.

The state of California says you have an hour of parking in a private, nonresidential, non-hotel lot before your car can be towed, but we all know some companies tow now, answer questions later.

The Los Angeles City Attorney's Office this week announced it busted a Valley tow operator for allegedly ...

 ... operating without a state motor carrier permit, towing a vehicle without making a good-faith inquiry that a vehicle was parked for one hour, unlawfully taking a motor vehicle, failing to provide the vehicle owner with written notice of towing authorization, failing to provide the vehicle owner with written information where to make a complaint about the tow, charging an excessive rate for towing and storage, refusing to accept payment by credit card, and vehicle tampering. 

Yeah, all that.

The owner of Valley Impound Garage, 60-year-old Steven Garcia Sr., was hit with a 60-count criminal complaint, prosecutors said. Steven Garcia Jr., 23, was charged with two separate counts of suspicion of operating a commercial motor vehicle without permits, they said.

The senior Garcia was convicted in 2008 of violating towing laws when he operated Van Nuys–based Top Notch Towing, authorities said.  

Driver Aaron Aguilar Cruz, 31, was charged with seven counts, including suspicion of operating a tow truck without state and local permits and failing to "unconditionally release a motor vehicle not yet removed from private property to the owner upon request," the City Attorney's Office stated.

Prosecutors allege that Valley Impound Garage preyed on a lot at 9241 Reseda Blvd. in Northridge, where at least 10 people were victimized.

One woman, the office said in a statement, alleged ...

 ... she parked in the lot, which abuts several small businesses to the south but serves an office building directly to the north, and went into a nearby beauty salon. Approximately 25 minutes later, the victim was alerted that her car was being towed. The victim discovered her car had been towed to another parking lot across the street, where she was allegedly given a choice of paying $120 cash to release her car on the spot or $280 later at the VIG tow yard in Van Nuys. 

The owner of the lot, identified as Kevin Gropp, was hit with 10 misdemeanor counts of allegedly failing to contract with a permitted tow company, prosecutors said. He also faces 10 infractions for allegedly causing the tow of a vehicle within the legal, one-hour grace period.

The alleged scheme was busted after a motorist complained and the L.A. Police Commission, which issues permits to tow operators in the city, investigated.

"Holding vehicles ransom and charging excessive fees for their release is an outrageous and unscrupulous business practice," City Attorney Mike Feuer says. "My office will continue to crack down on predatory businesses, hold their operators accountable and protect Los Angeles drivers."

The City Attorney's Office wants to remind you of your rights when it comes to towing in California. The towing company must:

-Obtain written authorization from the person requesting the tow (who must be present at the time of the tow and verify the violation).  

-Make a good-faith inquiry that the vehicle was parked over the maximum one-hour waiting period.

-Upon request, immediately and unconditionally release a vehicle that has not yet been removed from the private property — after releasing the vehicle, tow company may bill the owner for half the regular towing charge (approximately $60.50 plus tax for most attempted tows in the City of Los Angeles).

-Provide a copy of the completed written authorization document to the registered owner of the vehicle, or their agent, before they pay for the return of the vehicle.

-Provide a separate document, with contact information where to make a complaint, to the registered owner of the vehicle, or their agent, before they pay for the return of the vehicle.

-Charge no more of a fee for towing or storage than permitted by local law enforcement or the CHP (for towing companies under contract with the CHP), and provide the registered owner of the vehicle with written notice about the removal (In Los Angeles, the local law enforcement (LAPD) permits rates of $121 for the first hour for most standard vehicles).

-All storage facilities must be located within a 10-mile radius of the tow, remain open during normal business hours and accept credit card payments.

-Immediately provide written notice about the tow to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Arraignment for Valley Impound Garage defendants was scheduled for Sept. 2. Good luck. Or not.

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