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Driver accuses towing company of overcharging

Miami police working on implementing new system for drivers to file complaints

MIAMI – A man who identified himself only as Carlos said he was picking up a food delivery at a Brickell restaurant July 19, as part of his job as a driver, when he was told by a manager to park near the loading dock while he picked up the food.

He said he went inside for just two minutes.

"As I ran out, I saw my car being lifted by the tow truck driver," he said, "(I said), 'Whoa, whoa! What's going on here?'"

Carlos said a tow truck driver for the King's Wrecker company told told him he would drop the car in exchange for $100 in cash, or Carlos could pay $160 at the tow yard.

But according to city code, that's too much.

The base rate for an actual tow is $101. To drop the car before a tow -- what's known as a drop fee -- is $50.50.

Towing companies that rip off drivers with overcharges have been the focus of ongoing Local 10 News investigations in the past.

In the case of  Carlos and others like him, the charges have come even before the tow.

"We have a zero tolerance here in traffic enforcement," said Lt. Mike Gonzalez, who oversees the Miami Police Department's traffic enforcement unit, which investigates complaints.

Carlos filed a complaint with Miami police after several calls to King's Wrecker.

"He (said), 'Don't try it again. We're not getting anywhere. It's a $100 drop fee. That's all I can help you with,'" Carlos said, describing one phone call with a King's Wrecker employee. 

Local 10 News investigative reporter Amy Viteri accompanied him in person to try to get clarification on the charge.

"When I called and spoke to Mike, he said the manager would give me the refund of the difference," Carlos explained.

An employee replied by telling him there was no refund.

After several minutes, the staff angrily told Carlos to get off the property.

"You're overcharging people," Carlos yelled.

King's Wrecker is one of several companies included by Local 10 in a previous report, after a city audit found they routinely overcharged drivers.

When there is evidence of an overcharge, a company is required to pay back three times the amount. So, a $100 tow could mean a $300 refund.

"It's absolutely frustrating," Gonzalez said. "Because it's labor intensive for us to send a police officer out there to investigate."

Local 10 also asked police about potentially misleading signs posted by the company, which list the base rate as $131. Investigators asked management to correct the signs, and they were updated to show the correct base fee of $101.

"Just know that if an injustice was done, we're going to correct it and we're going to hold that company accountable," Gonzalez said.

Meanwhile, Carlos is disappointed.

"It's unfortunate that you have to go to the extent to be well-versed in every aspect of the law for someone not to rip you off," he said.

Miami police were still investigating Carlos' case and said at minimum he would be refunded the full amount he paid and, if there is enough evidence, possibly three times that amount. If they find the tow truck driver lied to them, the company could also be suspended for seven days.

Police also said towing companies are required to accept more than one form of payment, so they cannot require a driver to pay cash.

Miami police are working on implementing an online system for drivers who wish to file complaints and upload documents. In the meantime, anyone who wants to file a complaint should call the Miami police towing enforcement at 305-603-6531 or the main traffic enforcement line at 305-603-6540. 

Do you have a story you want Amy Viteri to investigate? Send her an email at aviteri@wplg.com.


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