Troubleshooters: Aggressive towing investigation in Philadelphia, sources say

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Thursday, August 24, 2017
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Chad Pradelli reports on an agressive towing investigation that sources say is underway in Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Multiple sources tell Action News there is a grand jury investigation into aggressive towing in Philadelphia.

There is a system to protect consumers, but too often they pay big fees by signing over their cars to an aggressive tow driver.

The Action Cam was on site of a recent collision where one vehicle flipped and another was left heavily damaged. Two tow trucks were first on scene before police or firefighters.

We asked Rita Jefferson, one of the people involved in the collision, if the tow truck drivers approached her.

"Yes," Jefferson said.

We asked, "What did they say?"

"Do I need any help? Any assistance?" Jefferson said.

We asked one of the tow truck drivers if he had been assigned to the crash site.

He responded to us, "Have you? Why are you here?"

We asked another tow truck driver why he was at the scene if he wasn't assigned.

"Same reason as you," he said. "It's something to see. It's news."

It's illegal for tow truck drivers to solicit at crash sites in Philadelphia.

Since March, Action News responded to a half dozen city crash scenes. Every time, tow trucks arrived before police.

Time and time again, those same trucks ended up getting the tow, despite the law calling for a rotational system put in place to prevent drivers from soliciting at crash sites.

Police are supposed to assign a tow company and, once a hook is completed, that company goes to the bottom of the list.

But is that happening?

"Unfortunately, not all the time, not as well as we'd like," Philadelphia Police Captain Sekou Kinebrew told Action News Troubleshooters.

There are roughly 100 companies approved by Licenses and Inspections, which currently manages the rotational tow system.

Police say since the system was put in place over a decade ago, it has only increased alleged predatory towing.

It appears to pay for tow companies to skirt the law.

In almost all the cases where Action News was on the scene, the same tow truck companies ended up getting the tow. We asked Captain Kinebrew if that was following the policy.

"You are absolutely right, that's not following the policy," Kinebrew said.

A month ago, we responded to an accident on the 3500 block of Richmond. When we arrived, police were already present, as was Joey C's Towing.

The driver involved in the accident, Kevin Steinmetz, said the tow truck driver was first on scene, within just a few minutes.

"He just asked me, 'Are you going to need a tow truck?'" Steinmetz told Action News.

Off camera, the tow driver said he heard the accident over fire radio, but later changed his tune.

We asked, "Did police call you as part of the towing rotation? To take this car?"

The tow truck driver responded, "No, I don't need that. Customer called."

We told him the customer said he didn't call the tow truck driver, but the tow truck still arrived on scene.

"Customer called us," the tow truck driver repeated.

We checked Kevin Steinmetz's phone to see for sure if he called Joey C's or even police, but there was no evidence on his phone that he did.

Local insurance company New Jersey Manufacturing tells Action News, since 2014, it found 82 cases where Philadelphia tow companies overcharged their customers by $90,000.

Since our investigation began, the city entered into negotiations with a company called AutoReturn to operate and investigate the rotational tow system in Philadelphia.

AutoReturn operates in several other major cities. Contractual details are still being worked out.


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