MIAMI – A review of towing companies in the city of Miami revealed that they consistently overcharged customers and failed to pay the city tens of thousands of dollars in owed fees.
Many customers who were ripped off had no idea until Local 10 News reporter Amy Viteri looked into the problem. Viteri reviewed an audit from Miami’s independent auditor general, which looked at several companies contracted by the city. In a one-month period, they found companies overcharged people more than $8,000.
"They're charging whatever they want to charge, and they're getting away with it," a driver, who only identified herself as Mary, said.
"To get it out, you have to pay what they say, and that's that," Ysidro Perez, who was overcharged when a company named King's Wrecker towed his SUV, told Local 10.
Mary's grandson should have paid $68 to get her Nissan Maxima back after King's Wrecker towed it. Instead, the company charged him $130, including a bogus fee.
At the time of the audit, the base rate in the city of Miami was $68. It has since been raised to the same as the county rate, which is $101.
"I understand that everybody has to make a living," Mary said. "But then you don't have to rob me to make money."
Five months after the audit was released, Local 10 visited the towing companies to see what changed.
At King's Wrecker -- the worst offender, according to the audit -- a sign posted with improper rates was still hanging inside the business.
"Can you talk to me about the rates here on the signs? What's the $134?" Viteri asked.
An employee told her that he wouldn’t say anything about the rates when Viteri asked if the company charged that price.
Another company listed in the audit was Nu-Way Towing, which had a sign posted outside listing a rate of $125.
"We've been meaning to take that one down," an employee told Viteri.
At Ted & Stan's Towing, the audit found in each case, it charged for storing the car more than several hours. However, the company couldn’t provide paperwork showing how long cars were at their facility. According to city rules, the first six hours of holding a car should incur no extra charges.
The Miami Police Department wrecker detail is responsible for monitoring towing operations in the city. The audit found that "MPD procedures and controls over the towing companies operating in the city were inadequate. … MPD did not monitor towing company operations."
"I think the department could have done better," Maj. Delrish Moss told Viteri.
Moss said the department has beefed up the wrecker detail from two officers to six. He said they are also working to implement new software for towing records and said officers have been doing random checks.
"If you want to do business with the city, you're going to have to do it right," Moss added.
In early January, Local 10 submitted a request for documentation of those checks. By the time Local 10 reported the story, the Miami Police Department was unable to provide them.
The audit found that over the one-month period, the companies failed to pay the city more than $50,000 in fees, which they were charging customers.
The last audit of towing companies was in 2005. Officials said there is no way to estimate the dollar amount of fees that potentially went unpaid to the city in that time period.
"Obviously, taxpayers are on the hook for a lot of things, and we don't want them on the hook for things like this," Moss said.
City law requires that towing companies refund customers three times the amount of any overcharge. Some customers reported difficulty trying to get their money back.
Miami police said anyone with a complaint or seeking a refund can contact their wrecker detail at 305-603-6531.