- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

Dozens of D.C. towing companies, some accused of transporting vehicles illegally, have banded together to form an official association that would give them clout with city officials trying to clean up the industry.

"People have looked at the towing industry in this city as a bunch of bandits and crooks for too long, and it's just not true," says Beverly Ingraham, president of the newly formed Metropolitan Washington Towing Association (MWTA).

Miss Ingraham, employed with a towing company in Southeast, said more than 30 operations had joined the organization since The Washington Times reported last month that the District was the only municipality in the United States without any such official association.

The goal is to "to streamline the industry and create one voice that will be respected by government officials who are trying to put restrictions on us, but not on the police," she said.

MWTA was incorporated three weeks ago. It is recognized officially by the Arlington-based Towing and Recovery Association of America, a national towing lobby that receives Department of Transportation funding for its driver-safety program.

Miss Ingraham said MWTA last week submitted four pages of recommended changes to towing regulations announced last month by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, vowed to draft the regulations the first effort to organize the towing industry in more than 35 years in August after a report issued by the D.C. inspector general's office uncovered illegal schemes involving police officers.

The FBI recently concluded a four-year investigation into towing corruption. Investigators found some towing operators were dismantling vehicles or selling them to "chop houses." The parts then would be sold on the black market.

Erik S. Gaull, a city administrator who co-chaired the mayoral task force that drafted the new regulations, welcomed the formation of an official association of towing companies.

"Before this group started, it was pandemonium," Mr. Gaull said. "The new association gives us a single point of contact, which is much more willing to discuss things in a manner that's conducive to having their concerns taken seriously."

Mr. Williams says he has little regard for towing companies that criticize his efforts to clean up their industry. He told reporters at his news briefing this week that "if the towing industry wants to organize, I welcome their organization. But I've not met with the towing association yet."

Miss Ingraham said MWTA's biggest problem with the mayor's new regulations is that they do not indicate clearly which city agency is responsible for notifying the owner of a vehicle that has been towed.

Vehicle owners who are not notified of the towing often accuse tow companies of delinquency, she said, adding that the regulations need to make it clear that towing companies are not responsible for notification.

"The police should be responsible," Miss Ingraham said. "How can a tow company be expected to get information about where an owner lives or what their phone number is? Only the police can find that out."

She said towing operators are tired of taking the blame when D.C. police officers request that vehicles be towed and leave as soon as the trucks arrive.

But victims of scams complain that rogue tow-truck drivers are equally to blame when a vehicle comes up "missing." In January, two apparent scam victims filed a class-action lawsuit, accusing the Metropolitan Police Department and seven towing companies of conspiring to illegally confiscate vehicles and charge grossly excessive storage fees.

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