LOS ANGELES – City Attorney Mike Feuer today announced that his office has filed a 60-count criminal complaint against the owner and operator of Valley Impound Garage (VIG), a Van Nuys towing and storage business, for alleged predatory practices against motorists parked in a Northridge lot.
“Holding vehicles ransom and charging excessive fees for their release is an outrageous and unscrupulous business practice,” said Feuer. “My office will continue to crack down on predatory businesses, hold their operators accountable, and protect Los Angeles drivers.”
Steven Garcia, Sr., 60, the owner/operator of VIG, was charged with 60 criminal counts including operating without a State motor carrier permit, towing a vehicle without making a good faith inquiry that a vehicle was parked for one hour, unlawfully taking a motor vehicle, failing to provide the vehicle owner with written notice of towing authorization, failing to provide the vehicle owner with written information where to make a complaint about the tow, charging an excessive rate for towing and storage, refusing to accept payment by credit card, and vehicle tampering.
Steven Garcia Jr., 23, a tow truck driver for VIG, was charged with two criminal counts for allegedly operating a commercial motor vehicle without proper permits.
Aaron Aguilar Cruz, 31, a tow truck driver for VIG, was charged with seven criminal counts including allegedly operating a tow truck without proper State and City permits and failing to unconditionally release a motor vehicle not yet removed from private property to the owner upon request.
In addition, Kevin Gropp, the owner of the parking lot was charged with 10 misdemeanor counts for failing to contract with a permitted tow company and 10 infractions for causing the tow of a vehicle within an hour of it being parked.
The complaint alleges that 10 victims were unlawfully towed at the lot from September 2014 through January 2015.
Arraignment for each of the defendants is scheduled for Sept. 2, 2015 in Department 40.
In 2015, the Los Angeles Police Commission (CID) investigated a complaint alleging that VIG illegally towed a female victim’s vehicle in Sept 2014 from a parking lot located at 9241 Reseda Blvd. in Northridge. The victim alleged she parked in the lot, which abuts several small businesses to the south but serves an office building directly to the north, and went into a nearby beauty salon. Approximately 25 minutes later, the victim was alerted that her car was being towed. The victim discovered her car had been towed to another parking lot across the street, where she was allegedly given a choice of paying $120 cash to release her car on the spot or $280.00 later at the VIG tow yard in Van Nuys.
Following up on the complaint, the LAPD Police Commission detectives assigned to the case requested VIG provide them with the written towing authorization forms for tows occurring on several dates between Sept 2014 and January 2015. The detectives made contact with vehicle owners involved in those tows, which led to the discovery of 10 additional victims who were allegedly illegally towed from that same lot.
In April 2008, Garcia, Sr. was convicted by a jury of four criminal counts involving violation of the two truck laws for his operation of Van Nuys-based “Top Notch Towing.”
Under state law, a towing company must:
· Obtain written authorization from the person requesting the tow (who must be present at the time of the tow and verify the violation.)
· Make a good faith inquiry that the vehicle was parked over the maximum one hour waiting period.
· Upon request, immediately and unconditionally release a vehicle that has not yet been removed from the private property – after releasing the vehicle, tow company may bill the owner for half the regular towing charge (approximately $60.50 plus tax for most attempted tows in the City of Los Angeles.)
· Provide a copy of the completed written authorization document to the registered owner of the vehicle, or their agent, before they pay for the return of the vehicle.
· Provide a separate document with contact information where to make a complaint to the registered owner of the vehicle, or their agent, before they pay for the return of the vehicle.
· Charge no more of a fee for towing or storage than permitted by local law enforcement or the CHP (for towing companies under contract with the CHP) provide the registered owner of the vehicle with written notice about the removal (In Los Angeles, the local law enforcement (LAPD) permits rates of $121 for the first hour for most standard vehicles).
· All storage facilities must be located within a 10 mile radius of the tow, remain open during normal business hours and accept credit card payments.
· Immediately provide written notice about the tow to the registered owner of the vehicle.
Deputy City Attorney Mark Lambert is prosecuting the case.