- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

The D.C. inspector general yesterday recommended that Mayor Anthony A. Williams' proposed towing regulations be revised to make towing companies responsible for notifying owners that their vehicles have been towed.
In a six-page letter to the mayor, Inspector General Charles C. Maddox said the new regulations do not indicate who should notify owners of towed vehicles the towing company, the police officers who request the tow, or the Department of Public Works employees who monitor vehicles after they are towed.
"It is our opinion that since tow companies financially benefit from tows, they should be responsible for notification [of vehicle owners]," Mr. Maddox said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
The mayor's new towing regulations were published Feb. 15 in the D.C. Register and remained open for public comment until yesterday. Officials in the mayor's office yesterday said they had not yet reviewed Mr. Maddox's recommendations.
Mr. Williams, a Democrat, promised to draft the regulations last year to clean up the city's towing industry after a report issued by Mr. Maddox uncovered illegal schemes involving police officers and towing companies.
The FBI recently concluded a four-year covert investigation of the towing industry Operation Towhook, which resulted in 60 arrests. As many as 29 those arrests ended in convictions of people involved in towing scams.
Since the inspector general's report on towing, two apparent victims of towing scams have filed a class-action lawsuit accusing the Metropolitan Police Department and seven towing companies of conspiring to confiscate cars, not notify owners and then charge exorbitant storage fees.
Terrence Ross, the owner of one of the companies named in the class-action suit, told The Times last month that notification of the owners is the towing industry's biggest problem. If passed by the D.C. Council without a significant revision, the mayor's "new regulations would do nothing to solve [the problem]," he said.
Erik S. Gaull, a city administrator who co-chaired the mayor's task force on towing, said he has "received public comment from several places including an organized group of representatives of the towing industry in D.C., but we haven't yet had time to review any of the comments yet."
Mr. Gaull said the comments will be reviewed and "necessary changes" will be made to the regulations before being sent for final review by the D.C. Council. He said the council has not set a deadline by which the regulations must be finished.
Mr. Maddox recommended the regulations be changed to state: "A tow company shall send a notice by certified mail, within five working days after a vehicle was taken into custody, to the last known address of the owners of record … giving the name and location of the tow company …
"A tow company shall within 10 days of towing a vehicle publish notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the District once a week for two consecutive weeks [of the cars whereabouts]."
"In the event that a vehicle owner claims that they were not notified of a tow and subsequently refuses to pay the storage charge, the tow company will have a record of notification," the inspector general said.
Officials with the mayor's office last month said they purposely created the regulations without indicating whose responsibility it would be to notify the owners of towed cars.
The plan was to have that responsibility assigned administratively after the regulations have been approved by the D.C. Council, Mr. Gaull said.
The mayor's office intends to hire a company to develop a computer bank that will automatically contact the owner of a car within hours after it is towed, officials have said. The system would operate out of the Department of Public Works and "ideally" would generate a certified letter to the car owner.
It also would make an automatic e-mail notification to the insurance company that is linked to the car's license plate number and would use a computerized calling system to contact the car owner's home telephone.

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