Tow Job

It's like magic. In the blink of an eye, your car vanishes.

But several months later, he backed in again to do some work on his car. He stepped away and got towed (a violation of the 48-hour warning policy). This time, he was forced to pay the $105. He filed another complaint with the city.

"Police officers don't even have that kind of control," McGriff told New Times, referring to the way cops issue tickets for illegal parking. Even if somebody leaves a car on the side of the road, law enforcement has to give 72 hours' notice to move it.

"The saddest thing about it is that these are hard-working people around here," he said.

Down Wallis Road in West Palm, past these abandoned tires, sits Kings Wreckers, the recipient of 108 towing complaints over the past three and a half years.
Down Wallis Road in West Palm, past these abandoned tires, sits Kings Wreckers, the recipient of 108 towing complaints over the past three and a half years.
Kings Wreckers
Kings Wreckers

His neighborhood is not unique. Pine Ridge North II in West Palm seems to have a particularly devious CPM patrolling the neighborhood. Resident Carol Davis' car was towed for an allegedly expired tag. When she found part of her valid sticker on the ground next to the spot from which her car was taken, the homeowners' association of Pine Ridge — not the CPM or Kings — issued Davis a refund.

The majority of the complaints against Kings have accused the company of violating the city ordinance, and the majority have been closed and stamped "no violation of law." Only 13 of the 108 cases resulted in an adjustment, refund, or repair. Still, the company has received eight warnings.

Those who work at Kings act as if it's the "consumer" with the problem. Jason, his eyebrows rising like apostrophes on the far side of his bulletproof protection, wonders why his employer elicits such loathing.

Kings has a great reputation, which is why they get so much business, he insists.

"Our signs dominate the property in Palm Beach County," he says with pride. "People recognize that we do a good job. We're providing a service."

In fact, towing companies in Broward get away with more than Kings does, committing every underhanded offense possible, according to complaint records. In some instances, they're even violating the one law that Broward County's Consumer Affairs Division has the (limited) power to enforce: prices.

The worst offender appears to be SOS Towing, owned by Yona Edelkops. In 2007, the Broward Consumer Affairs Division received 11 complaints from people who lived in residential communities and had been towed, perhaps unfairly, then charged in excess of what the law allows. Under county regulations, tow operators may charge only $100 until a vehicle has been held for six hours; then an additional storage fee of $24 can be tacked on. After 24 hours elapses, tow companies may charge another $30 for the research it does to determine ownership.

SOS, in 11 reported cases, charged $190 or more for holding cars less than six hours. Although the wronged parties (many of whom parked at the Fairways of Inverrary complex in Tamarac) got refunds, SOS has ignored the warnings of Consumer Affairs and continued overcharging. If the victims of those crimes agree to testify in court (and that's a big if, according to Joel Metter, supervisor of the division's Consumer Protection Section, since once people get their money back, they tend to disappear), then SOS may find itself issued a cease-and-desist order that could include fines of up to $500 per day.

Another overeager Broward tow company has been terrorizing Nova Gardens Condominiums, where residents' cars parked temporarily in front of buildings, with groceries ready to be unloaded, have been dragged off. It happened to Ralf Meinzer on November 7, just six days after Bekah's Towing & Recovery entered into its contract with the homeowners' association.

"Since then," Meinzer wrote, "the towing service has been aggressively towing in the units of cars for doing the same thing I did. Everyone here parks in front of their building to unload groceries, small children, etc. etc. The towing service is constantly seen driving through our property and has been seen numerous times parked in various areas on our property, waiting for a unit owner to unload items from their vehicle in front of the building."

Meinzer said he knew of at least four other residents who had been victimized this way. In a letter to Meinzer, the supervisor of consumer protection in Broward County explained that the ordinance in Broward County did not prohibit predatory towing. So unless Broward County commissioners pass a new ordinance, dragging away a car filled with fresh groceries will remain legal.

No county commissioner responded to an inquiry from New Times for this article, though two secretaries directed a reporter to the all-but-powerless Consumer Affairs Division.

In Dania Beach, the politicians aren't just lax about towing. One former commissioner and mayor has made his fortune off it. Residents have long questioned whether C.K. "Mac" McElyea's political ties scored him towing contracts with local municipalities, including the Broward Sheriff's Office. Three years ago, he was sitting on the Dania Beach City Commission, voting on whether to extend the BSO contract in Dania Beach at the same time that BSO was using his towing services in Dania Beach.

After an article in New Times exposed the quid pro quo, McElyea lost the contract. But he continues to tow from private property in Dania Beach in a manner that has disturbed the owners of Grampa's Restaurant.

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