City tow-truck companies are hauling off legally parked cars and then shaking down their hapless owners for cash — threatening to take their vehicles to the impound yard if they don’t cough up the dough.
The scam, orchestrated by dozens of towing firms, has been occurring in places motorists often consider the safest areas to park, such as the public lots of major shopping plazas, city Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz told The Post.
More than 50 tow companies had their licenses revoked and another 19 suspended since October 2009 when hundreds of people began flooding the city’s 311 line with complaints of being improperly towed, according to DCA data.
Perhaps the most notorious offender was the now-defunct firm Fastway Towing & Recovery of Brooklyn.
The company and its owner, Zbigniew Filipowicz, were hit with $1.2 million in fines and forced to surrender the firm’s towing license after it was found to have improperly towed some 1,200 cars, DCA documents show.
For example, its trucks regularly patrolled Caesar’s Bay Bazaar, a shopping center in Bath Beach, Brooklyn.
First it would tow a legally parked car around the corner, out of sight of its owner. Fastway’s “agents” on the lot would then tell the harried owner to fork over $200 for immediate return of the car or go to its impound lot the next day and pay $100, the victims claimed.
The scam was pulled as often as 20 times an hour, according to the DCA.
“The kind of purposeful fraudulent activity from Fastway has been seen in dozens of other tow companies,” Mintz told The Post.
“That’s why DCA has responded with such broad and massive investigation, not just to make an example of here and there.”
The company can’t be prosecuted for larceny since it didn’t technically steal the car, the DCA said.Eric Lorentty, store manager of the plaza’s Best Buy, said, “Obviously, it does hurt business.’’One victim said his car was snatched last year in front of the Toys “R” Us at Caesar’s when he went to buy ice cream for his then 4- and 5-year-old kids.
“I was fuming, I can’t believe you take your kids to buy ice cream and toys in Brooklyn and you get towed,” said Benjamin Lapin of the June 2011 incident.
“They were very rude, very thuggish punks,” he told The Post.
He said a Fastway agent told him, “I’m halfway to the pound. Do you want me to bring it back for $200 cash or you just pick it up at the pound tomorrow for $100?” The DCA ordered Fastway to pay Lapin $217.
DCA investigators also found Fastway employed an unlicensed driver and didn’t have proper authorization from property owners to tow some 960 vehicles, according to an administrative ruling.
Filipowicz, who has since relocated to Florida, didn’t return a call for comment.
Source: NY Post