- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

A class-action lawsuit filed this week by two men who say they are victims of a D.C. towing scam has angered some of the owners and operators of some of the towing operations named in the suit.
The plaintiffs, Robert Snowder and Jeffrey Schroeder, accuse several licensed towing companies of working secretly with D.C. police to illegally confiscate cars and charge grossly excessive storage fees to unsuspecting motorists.
Terrence Ross, the owner of R&R; Towing and Recovering, one of seven companies named in the suit, said he runs a clean business and the lawsuit filed Tuesday "doesn't stand a chance" against his operation.
Mr. Ross told The Washington Times he's tired of being accused of conspiring with police to deceive people by not notifying them when their vehicle has been impounded.
"It's a lie," he said. "These people are getting out their side of the story and you haven't heard our side of the story."
Mr. Snowder and Mr. Schroeder say police officers and towing companies engage in clandestine operations, confiscating cars and charging victims exorbitant fees to get the cars back.
The men's lawyer, Philip Friedman, says tow companies and D.C. police have repeatedly violated regulations concerning how a vehicle may be towed and when an owner must be notified that his vehicle has been impounded.
"Our aim is to collect monies improperly taken from citizens," he said, adding that yesterday, after The Times reported the civil-action lawsuit, he received numerous phone calls from people saying that they, too, have been the victims of a towing scam.
The District's statute for impounding vehicles (Title 18 of the D.C. Municipal Code, Regulation 2421.2) is not specific about how much time the city has to notify the owner. The statute reads: "It is the duty of the Police or the Department of Public Works to notify the owner of the vehicle as soon as practical."
This is not the first time problems with the District's towing operations have come under fire. The Times first reported on the scandal in August after the office of D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox filed a confidential report on the issue.
Mr. Snowder says he got the runaround from city agencies last year after his car was stolen. The car was recovered within days, but he claims he was not notified for more than two months.
By that time, he says, he received a call from R&R; Towing and Recovery notifying him that his vehicle could be found in R&R;'s impound lot, but the company wanted $1,700 to release the car. Mr. Snowder says he complained, nothing happened and eventually, he gave up and paid up.
But Mr. Ross, who owns R&R;, says that's a lie. "The towing and storage was $1,700, but I cut that in half because it took me a month to find them and they were so upset about it."
Mr. Ross says he feels like he is the one who's been slighted because it is not even his responsibility to contact the owners of a car brought to his impound lot at the request of D.C. police.
"It does not make sense that D.C. police can recover a $100,000 Mercedes and put it in my possession and because of the privacy act, I can't obtain a name and address and telephone number of the owner," he said. "I don't know why D.C. police never notified [Mr. Snowder]."
Mr. Ross says that from the information police "finally" gave him after he demanded a license plate check on Mr. Snowder's car, he "personally went to the address and he didn't even live there."
The other towing companies named in the lawsuit are: Farco Towing Company, Abe's Towing Inc., Towing By Trip Inc., Perry's Towing and Storage, Wisconsin Avenue Sunoco Inc. and Precision Towing Inc.
A spokesman at Perry's Towing declined to comment on the lawsuit when a reporter contacted him by telephone yesterday. The other towing operations all said people in charge were unavailable for comment.
Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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