CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS AND NEW LAWS FORCE TOWING COMPANIES TO TOE THE LINE IN SANTA MONICA

 


January 30, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT:   Gary Rhoades, (310) 458-8348
  

The Santa Monica City Attorney’s office recently completed its prosecution of Classic Towing and also filed criminal charges against another towing company, Competition Tow Service, and its owner, Peter Boktor, for illegal towing practices in Santa Monica.

Competition Tow is the third towing business prosecuted by the city in recent months. The three prosecutions, along with new collaboration among law enforcement groups, are part of the city’s Consumer Protection Unit’s continuing efforts to curb illegal towing.

Prosecutions

Today, 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.  Classic had been charged with attempted extortion, towing a vehicle without written authorization, and operating without a business license. The plea agreement includes the following terms:

  • The business will be permanently shut down

  • The owners will pay $5,000: $2,500 for restitution of victims, $2,500 to the City’s Consumer Protection Fund

The city had been pursuing Classic and its owners for several years in multiple prosecutions and administrative actions.

In a second case, Competition Tow Service has been charged with two towing infractions, including refusing to accept payment by credit card and charging an excessive rate, as well as one misdemeanor for taking a vehicle without the consent of the owner.  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. The terms of the agreement with Williams Tow include:

  • Not performing any towing in Santa Monica

  • Fine of $1,000

  • Payment of $1,000 to the Consumer Protection Fund (the victims were reimbursed during the investigation).

  • City attorney probation for one year

  • Giving notice to all employees regarding all towing laws

Gary Rhoades, the attorney who handled the cases for Santa Monica, said that comprehensive probation packages are a good way to curb illegal practices.  "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.  Comparing the result in the Classic Towing case, he added,  "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."

Law Enforcement Collaboration

The recent cases have been notable for the heightened collaboration between several law enforcement groups, including the Santa Monica Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the City Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, Santa Monica’s Revenue Division, and the Better Business Bureau. Santa Monica Police Officer Mike Rosenberg first detected the patterns of unlawful towing practices. "With Officer Rosenberg’s work, we saw that there were unusually high numbers of complaints and allegations against these three companies," said Rhoades.  Once city prosecutors started filing charges, the above law enforcements groups and Rosenberg made investigation of these patterns a priority.

In the Classic Towing case, the city got an early court order barring Classic from doing any towing in Santa Monica pending the jury trial.  But in a first-of-its kind undercover test, Consumer Protection Specialist Paula Rockenstein of the City Attorney’s Office found that Classic was allegedly violating the court order and operating without a business license.  New criminal counts based on the violations were immediately filed.

New State Laws

Under state law, the following practices are crimes:

  • Towing a vehicle without written authorization from a property owner for that particular tow (Example: In the Williams Tow case, 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.) The only exception to this rule occurs when the vehicle is blocking another vehicle or interfering with an exit or entrance.

  • Towing a vehicle after its owner returns to the vehicle.

  • Charging rates in excess of those approved by the California Highway Patrol.

  • Failing to accept a credit card for payment of towing services.

  • 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.  Also, the towing laws were amended so that they now 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.

 

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This page was last updated on 02/28/11.