- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Two victims of the D.C. towing scam filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday against D.C. police and seven of the city's licensed towing operators, seeking to recover exorbitant impound and towing fees paid by unsuspecting motorists.
The Washington Times first reported on the towing scandal in August after the D.C. Inspector General's Office uncovered a scheme in which police officers and towing companies collaborate to illegally confiscate cars and charge victims grossly excessive storage fees.
The plaintiffs, Robert Snowder and Jeffrey Schroeder, contend that police and towing companies have repeatedly engaged in deceptive and unfair practices by not following existing regulations concerning how a vehicle may be towed and when an owner must be notified that his vehicle has been impounded.
"We're trying to reclaim the thousands and thousands of dollars taken from D.C. residents in towing scams," said the men's lawyer, Phillip Friedman. "The bottom line is either the towing operator is removing a vehicle without police authorization or the police have failed to fulfill their statutory obligations to notify the vehicle owner."
D.C. police spokesman Anthony O'Leary said 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."
Mr. Snowder got the runaround from city agencies last year after his car was stolen. The car was recovered within days, but he wasn't notified for more than two months. By that time, the impound lot wanted $1,700 to release his car.
He complained, nothing happened and eventually, he gave up and paid up.
"I tried every remedy that a D.C. citizen would and talked to every person I could," Mr. Snowder said.
He said he compiled a logbook of names and numbers of people he called in the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. "They would not even return phone calls when they said they would," Mr. Snowder said.
Mr. Friedman believes this story is common among D.C. residents. "Bob's situation is what we think is typical of what's happened to a lot of people," he said.
This is not the first time problems with the District's towing operations have come under fire. A confidential report filed last summer by the office of D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox detailed some of the clandestine operations engaged in by the police and towing companies.
The report, obtained by The Times, made it clear that Mr. Snowder's experience was not an isolated incident, citing several cases of police officers scheming with tow companies to confiscate legally parked autos without any record or notification.
Towing companies involved in these schemes have little to fear from the D.C. police, the report said, because officers and city workers often do not document and track towed cars, and the District has only one consumer-protection agent assigned to investigate more than 50 towing companies operating in the city.
The report also found that officers and the agency charged with regulating the towing industry do not do their jobs, giving free rein to rogue towing companies and the "bandit cranes" used to confiscate the cars.
The following D.C. towing companies are named in the civil action lawsuit: R&R; Towing and Recovery, Farco Towing Company, Abe's Towing Inc., Towing By Trip Inc., Perry's Towing and Storage, Wisconsin Avenue Sunoco Inc. and Precision Towing Inc.
Gary Perry, owner of Perry's Towing and Storage, said his towing company operates under an informal agreement with the D.C. police.
"We are on the D.C. police rotation. It goes by alphabetical order, and whoever is available for a traffic accident or stolen car or whatever, gets the call," Mr. Perry said. He added that he is not sure how his company could be involved in the lawsuit.
"I would need to know specifically what they are suing for and why but I don't know what it could be about," he said.

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