- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

The attorney representing two men suing D.C. police and seven of the city's licensed towing companies says he has received many phone calls from other victims in a car-towing scam that apparently has targeted drivers with out-of-state license plates.
Phillip Friedman says he has received more than 60 calls from people who want to join the class-action lawsuit, which was issued Wednesday.
"My phone has not stopped ringing since your paper ran the article about the suit last week," said Mr. Friedman, whose clients, Robert Snowder and Jeffrey Schroeder, seek to recoup excessive impound fees paid by unsuspecting motorists.
The Washington Times first reported in August on the towing scandal, which was uncovered by the office of D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox. The inspector general's office reported it had investigated a scheme in which police officers and towing companies conspired to illegally confiscate cars and charge victims excessive storage fees.
In the calls to Mr. Friedman's office, "a recurrent pattern that seems to be showing up is that people with out-of-state license plates seem to be getting nabbed," he said. "Most of them recover their cars within a couple of days, but they get charged very high fees."
One Maryland man who called Mr. Friedman yesterday already has filed a separate lawsuit in D.C. Small Claims Court against what he says is a rogue D.C. towing company not named in the class-action suit.
John James, of Mount Ranier, sued Platinum Towing Inc. of Northwest because, he claims, the company sent his family's stolen 1988 Jeep Cherokee to a junkyard after keeping it on an impound lot for eight weeks without contacting him.
Mr. James, 42, says the Jeep disappeared from in front of his Mount Ranier home in early October. A Prince George's County police officer wrote a car-theft report and told Mr. James to contact police again if they didn't contact him.
"Six weeks went by and I called them to see if they'd found my Jeep," he said. "The lady on the other end was very rude. She said, 'Sir, I don't know why you're calling us. Your Jeep was recovered by D.C. police the day after you reported it stolen.'"
D.C. police told Mr. James that his car had been recovered and sent to Platinum Towing. When he asked why he was never notified, D.C. police told him it was a civil matter and he needed to contact the towing company.
When he called Platinum, a spokesman told him the company had the Jeep and it would cost $850 for him to get it back. Mr. James says he told them he needed a few days to get the money. But when he appeared with the cash, he was informed the Jeep had been sent to the junkyard because it sat on the lot for too long.
"I've never been treated so wrongfully," Mr. James said yesterday. "Shouldn't they have notified me with a letter or something?"
Rick J. Anderson, a driver for the towing company, says Platinum made no effort to contact Mr. James "because the cops told us they were going to contact him."
D.C. police Cmdr. Joe Griffith last week told The Times that if a stolen vehicle is recovered "the officer should make every effort to notify the owner."
Mr. Anderson said Platinum tried to "work a deal" with Mr. James, offering to return the Jeep if he agreed to pay for a couple of days of storage at the rate of $25 a day. "We told him that after 30 days the Jeep was going to go to junk and he just drove off," he said.
Mr. James is seeking $5,000 plus court costs from Platinum. The court date is set for Jan. 28.
Mr. Friedman has advised Mr. James to follow through with his lawsuit because it may take years before the class-action suit against the seven towing companies and D.C. police comes to fruition. Platinum Towing is not named in the suit.
Only seven of the city's 185 private towing companies have been named because "those were the ones we had solid preliminary evidence against. As the case develops, others will be added to the list," Mr. Friedman said.
The plaintiffs contend that police and towing companies have engaged in deceptive and unfair practices by not following regulations on how a vehicle can be towed and when an owner must be notified that a vehicle has been impounded.
Meanwhile, new regulations to clean up the towing industry are still months away from taking effect, despite promises from the mayor's office that the measures would be in place by this month.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams vowed to take action last year, but reforms have been stymied by bureaucratic arguments over whether the mayor has the authority to crack down on the industry.
The confusion, city leaders say, stems from a memorandum issued in November by the District's legal department, the Office of Corporation Counsel, which states that the mayor cannot unilaterally invoke new towing regulations.

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