- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

Prince George’s County lawmakers are targeting a Temple Hills towing company in their crackdown on the industry, which they say routinely overcharges customers and operates with few regulations.

Richard Commock, owner of Continental Towing, was indicted by county prosecutors Oct. 20 on 12 counts that include forging vehicle registrations. He also faces a charge in U.S. District Court of storing a stolen vehicle with no documentation, state officials said.

“He’s an example of one of the problems in the system,” said Delegate Doyle L. Niemann, Prince George’s County Democrat. “Under the regulations, he shouldn’t even have a license because he submitted false documents, [but] he’s back out there on the road.”

Mr. Niemann, also an assistant state’s attorney working on the case, has introduced a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would cap towing and storage fees and keep companies more accountable to law-enforcement agencies.

“We’re not trying to put legitimate people out of business,” he said, “but there needs to be some regulation to keep consumers from being ripped off.”

The bill would cap towing fees at $100 in most circumstances and prohibit storage facilities from charging more than $35 a day. Companies also would be required to provide police with a description of each towed vehicle, including the vehicle identification number and the time and the date on which the vehicle was towed.

County Council member Camille Exum proposed similar legislation, recently approved by the county’s transportation committee. The bill also would prohibit companies from towing vehicles outside county borders.

“There was just a need to respond to the complaints we had received and add some regulation to the industry,” said Mrs. Exum, a Capitol Heights Democrat.

Detective Brian Padgett, of the county police department’s Auto Crimes Task Force, said the biggest problem is with companies not contracted to tow for such county agencies as the police department. Contracted towing companies face stricter regulations and have a cap on the amount of money they can charge.

However, all towing companies in the county are supposed to thoroughly document impounded vehicles, then report them to the police department — regulations often ignored by companies not under contracts.

Detective Padgett also said predatory practices such as placing spotters in apartment complexes to watch for illegally parked cars are “out of control.”

The Continental case was largely the result of problems reported by Maggie Luther, a 26-year-old University of Maryland student who said she had to pay $600 in towing and storage fees after the company took her truck and trailer from outside her Bowie apartment.

“We had permission from the apartment complex,” she said. “It sat there about two hours, then it was towed.” She then started monitoring the company’s operations. Ms. Luther said she saw Mr. Commock staking out vehicles parked illegally, then towing them.

Mr. Commock disputed the charges and said his company has done nothing wrong.

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