5/7/2017 - Last month I finally made the tough decision to not take my case to court. The decision was based on not having more time, and the fact I will never receive compensation for the damage that Advanced Towing caused to my car. Even if I won the case in court, I'd end up paying more to a lawyer anyway. Advanced Towing holds all the cards: They know that capitalistic forces don't affect them since their "customers" don't have a choice of who tows their cars when they make mistakes. They have no financial incentive to be responsible with the care of vehicles. They know that the police department is unable to intervene for damage claims. They will disavow any damage caused to vehicles and openly state that they have no obligation to review evidence to the contrary. They will prevent any cases against them from being heard in small claims court, knowing that this will prevent most people from attempting action because the cost of a lawyer usually outstrips the cost of damages they cause. And they have proven willing to intimidate (following me to my car when I visited to legally get access to photographs of a vehicle) and lie to a judge (that a copy of a photograph has been provided to me, among other things).

What a year it's been. I spent an enormous amount of time pursuing action in criminal court, and was nominated as a non-voting member to the Arlington Trespass Towing Advisory Board where I was credited for having some consumer-friendly language added to local code. But the criminal case, after countless hours of my time, was overturned because Advanced Towing lied to the judge at least 3 times according to the evidence I have provided below. And the industry (no doubt led by Advanced Towing), enraged by consumer-friendly code enacted by the Arlington Board, took the issue all the way to the state government, getting legislation passed that applies only to Arlington (and surrounding counties), singling me and 9 of my peers on the Advisory Board out to have us removed, and overturning local legislation that is still in effect in other Virginia municipalities.

As I wrap up my individual case, I have one final piece of information I want to share in the hopes of educating other victims of this company. Last year, I filed a formal complaint with the Consumer Protection Section of the Office of the Attorney General, which was investigated. I never signed an NDA and have no obligation to keep this confidential, so I'll share the below email in full so that others may know what they are up against if they attempt to file a complaint. I should note that you should do this first before attempting any legal action, as the AG won't follow up if you already have tried some other path. If you've been a victim yourself, don't hesitate to reach out to me for advice on navigating the complex path you must take to attempt to pursue justice.

One side note I'll point out about how far-reaching these guys will go: you'll notice the strange reference to OJ Simpson in this email from "J. Sundstrom" at Advanced Towing to the Attorney General's investigator, accusing me of spouting off "conspiracies". Then take a look at the comments on this post on ARLNow.com:

Coincidence that this anonymous freedom-fighter commenter on ARLNow makes the same 20-year old reference? I don't think so, do you? Just kidding, it's not a coincidence. This person has been trolling me on the comments on ARLnow for a while now, and has done background checks on me to try and harass and discredit me.

Below is the response from Advanced Towing to my complaint after the interview with the investigator. In blue you'll see my responses that I sent back to him in response. Neither the original email from Advanced Towing (in black) nor my responses (in blue) have been altered.

From: Office Manager

Sent: Friday, November 04, 2016 2:42 PM

We have received the complaint in regard to Matt Chiste.

According to our review of his complaint Mr. Chiste makes these claims.

  1. Vehicle Damage
  2. Fake Evidence
  3. Deceptive Advertising

We will address each in order.

Vehicle Damage Claim - Mr. Chiste claimed his car struck a piece of rebar that was protuding out of a concrete curb stop when it was towed from a parking space. Mr. Chiste's storyline suggests the tow driver damaged his vehicle and insiuates there is a conspiracy against him of OJ Simpson/LAPD mangintude. Mr. Chiste makes various claims, in so many words, that our "Company" is deceiving or conspiring against him.

Response: My allegation is simply predicated on the fact that I could not have caused the damage to the car myself. Furthermore, I have a witness who was a passenger in the car with me that night who will testify that, like me, he did not hear any scraping when parking. Based on the video evidence I have produced and the testimony I and my passenger will offer, I believe an educated layman would agree with this fact in court.

While Advanced Towing may accuse me of "insiuating (sic) conspiracies", if the above fact is proven true, then:

  1. It is proof the tow truck driver was the only one who could have caused the damage.
  2. ... which is proof that he took the photograph after he caused the damage.
  3. ... which is proof that not only he, but at least two other people in the company (the receptionist and the owner of the company) have used that photograph to prevent me from collecting damages.
  4. While my claim makes no reference to OJ Simpson, it does cite VA Code 46.2-118 (https://vacode.org/46.2-118/) which says no driver or operator may use fraud or deceit in the offering or delivering of towing and recovery services. Knowingly using this deceptive photograph by multiple people within the organization is deceptive to say the least.

Mr. Chiste's car was towed. The driver took photos when towing occurred. Photos of Mr. Chiste's vehicle were taken at the time it was towed. Damage was present at the front bumper noticeable in one or more of the photos taken by the driver. Only the tow truck driver was present at the time towing occurred.

Response: All true statements.

Mr. Chiste claims his car was damaged when towed. It is not possible, based on the information submitted by Mr. Chiste and by the driver to determine the vehicle was damaged as a result of towing rather than as a result of parking.

Response: On the contrary, the following three conditions DO make it possible to determine the vehicle was damaged as a result of towing rather than parking:

  1. I have shown video evidence that the bumper, while in drive and in reverse, clears the rebar.
  2. When the car is shifted to park, the vehicle lowers very close to said rebar.
  3. Logic dictates that lifting the vehicle from the back would lower the front bumper even further and put more downward pressure on the curb and rebar as it was being dragged backwards.
  4. As seen in the video, the rebar would have been visible if the driver had conducted a simple inspection, but displayed negligence in dragging the bumper over a curb that he would have seen if he looked.

Mr. Chiste's vehicle lowers it's height while coming to a stop and when parked. If rebar was protruding from the curb stop it seems just as likely Mr. Chiste may have contacted the rebar when pulling forward. If Mr. Chiste heard contact when pulling up to the curb stop to park he might have backed up thinking he struck the curb stop. When backing up he could have caused more damage if his bumper was over top of the rebar at that point. Car owners contact curbs and curb stiops all the time. Go to any shopping center and you can see cars do it all day. They pull up to a curb stop or curb, hear contact with the curb or curb stop and back away. While Mr. Chiste has gone to great lengths to demonstrate his claim, based on his submissions it cannot be concluded the tow driver damaged his vehicle and not Mr. Chiste.

Response: Again, I have demonstrated that the bumper clears the rebar in both drive and in reverse, and the only time the car lowers is when the gear selector is put in park (not "when parking" as Mr. Sundstrom claims). The video clearly proves that the non-damaged bumper would not have contacted the rebar when pulling forward or when reversing, regardless of whether the tires contacted the curb itself.

The photographs of the damaged bumper also prove that no damage occurred while pulling forward; the only damage that occurred was when the vehicle was being dragged backwards. This can be proven by the scratches on the bumper radiating outwards from a single point from back to front, and the fact that the tear in the bumper has no scratches in front of it. If the car indeed had been driven over the rebar as Mr. Sundstrom suggests, there would have been a scratch in the bumper leading up to the tear as the bumper would have been dragged over the rebar before being caught and ripped away in reverse.

Illustration: no scratches in front of the tear show that the bumper was not scratched being driven over the rebar when going forward. Instead, the bumper was only torn and pulled off by the rebar by being caught from behind as the car was dragged backwards:

Illustration #2: the rebar shows no plastic remnants on top that would have been caused by driving over it going forward; just the shredded plastic on the front and sides once the plastic was torn. Also, the only plastic scrape residue is on the front side of the curb, indicating the bumper was dragged in reverse but not forward:

Illustration #3: scratches show forward radiation. Specifically, a piece of gravel would break apart and make V shapes towards the front if the car was dragged over the curb in reverse. But it would be impossible for two pieces of gravel to somehow converge to a single point and then disappear if that gravel was causing the scratches when the car was being driven forward.

In the video I presented, the bumper clears by only a tiny margin, but it should be noted that the bumper used in the demonstration was the damaged bumper with the plastic torn down and away; the replaced bumper has even more clearance. While it is true that people occasionally contact a curb this way, both I and my passenger that night will testify that this did not happen, as the noise would have been obvious even if I had just unconsciously backed away from the curb after making contact.

Only the tow truck driver was present when towing occurred, not all of our company employees or owners. There was and is no conspiracy to deny Mr. Chiste's damage claims. We were unable ascertain his claims are accurate or valid based on a few simple points. The photo taken at the time towing occured showed damage present. It is conceiveable Mr. Chiste could have done the damage himself when parking as Mr. Chiste has a unique vehicle that lowers when parking (most cars do not). In addition, it is a common activity for car owners to strike the curb or curb stop when parking, especially if rebar might be protruding.

Response: While it is true that the tow truck driver was the only person present at the time of the tow, I had a passenger in my car that night who will testify under oath (like me) that we did not contact that curb while parking. And I believe I have already provided the proof that I could NOT have done the damage myself.

That night, the noise of tearing off the bumper would have been blatantly obvious and my passenger and I would have heard it. It would have been so obvious, according to my version of the story, that the tow truck driver would have heard it from the inside of his cab, and gotten out of the truck to take that second photograph, 3 minutes after the initial picture was taken. The timeline is important to note because it is not credible to argue that if the driver was doing a routine "walk around" of the car to check for damage, he would take 3 minutes to do so. Instead, as it takes just seconds to lift a car up from the back (putting further downward pressure on the front bumper), my proposed scenario is more likely - and in fact the only plausible scenario given that the bumper doesn't contact the rebar in normal drive and reverse operation.

I agree with Mr. Sundstrom's statements that not all company employees were there either, but dispute the claim about the "conspiracy". As is clearly spoken on the recording in the video, the company has chosen to simply ignore the offering of ANY additional evidence, and unilaterally accepts the driver's evidence as fact, despite on at least one occasion an Advanced Towing driver has been arrested perpetrating multiple crimes: https://www.arlnow.com/2016/03/21/tow-truck-driver-arrested-charged-with-theft/. So while I have not used the phrase "conspiracy" in my reports, the definition "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful" is ironically apt in the sense that I AM alleging that company employees have initially refused to do any investigation whatsoever, and it is only through countless hours of research and community advocacy that I have even gotten this response that the company is "unable to ascertains his claims". Originally the response was literally "I'm denying your claim, I'm not going to pay for your bumper ... I don't need to [review your evidence]... because we did not damage that car ... ".

It is also a fact that I have never received any response to the three written requests (emails) I sent to the company. This evidence makes it clear that in my case the company willfully ignored evidence provided when deciding on damage claims and used deceptive evidence to justify it. It appears that the company policy is to unilaterally deny damage claims with the hope that the victim will not take the time or effort to follow up. Of course, this strategy is completely logical: why pay any damage claims regardless evidence provided when only a small percentage of people who report damage ever pursue legal action? It's not like these customers can take their business elsewhere.

As a side note, the company has deliberately withheld the full version of one of the photographs taken at the time of the tow (after repeatedly ignoring my written requests and verbally denying they had any legal obligation to do so). The charges were brought by Arlington County in criminal court and the company was initially found guilty, but they were dismissed when the tow company's lawyer appealed and convinced the judge that the pictures were already provided. After that second trial, I have made and defended the claim that the receptionist perjured herself on the stand (I provided hard evidence of one claim in video form, that there was only one other person in line instead of 5 or 6, and circumstantial evidence of another where she claims that in a brief gap in the video she said "she'd give me the picture later", despite spending the subsequent 3 minutes denying the photographs were even there).

Unfortunately, we cannot just accept claims because an individual seems adamant about their position or because they can do a Powerpoint presentation to tell their story.

Response: I absolutely agree that the ability to create a Powerpoint presentation should NEVER be the only thing that entitles a victim to compensation for negligent damage caused. EVERY victim should be able to present their case and have it heard by the company offering its "services".

Furthermore, just because I am adamant doesn't make the facts any less true. Normally this company gets away with causing damage simply because it is a matter of the driver's word against the vehicle owner, and there is no other evidence. I can provide contact information for others who allege misconduct as well, but have never followed up because they didn't have the time or energy to pursue the case. In my unique case, though, the evidence exists and I am adamant that the facts are true as I have documented them.

Fake Evidence - I am not exactly sure what Mr. Chiste means about "fake evidence". A photo taken by the driver showed damage and I am not disputing the picture shows damage. What's fake about that? The picture, or 10 pictures if there were 10, would not prove who caused the damage. There is no fake evidence.

Response: The "fabricated evidence" claim is simple, and based on this fact as I have presented it: the damage could not have been caused by me in the process of parking - in forward or reverse. Ergo, it was caused by the tow truck driver while the car was in park and he lifted the back end of the car up, putting further downward pressure on the front bumper. Ergo, the "evidence" that company says is "proof the damage was already there prior to the tow" is fabricated. Ergo, the company is being deceitful about repairing damage caused by its driver.

It seems Mr. Sundstrom is trying to deflect my claim of fabricated evidence by asserting that the photos are real and not doctored. Aside from the fact that the second photo has deliberately been modified to show less than the full version of the photo (evidence of this has been provided on the site), I agree they are real photos. However, given my chain of facts and evidence about the damage - and that it was taken by the driver AFTER the damage itself was caused - then these very real photos are indeed very fake evidence.

Deceptive Advertising - Mr. Chiste claims deceptive advertising because there is (not was) a disclaimer on our website that indicates our "customers", the entities that hire us to provide service to their property, have not made any complaints to BBB's. Our statement is accurate and also details that car owmers towed from private property without their consent are not "customers" as they do not hire our services. In most consumer transactions there is an expecation of satisfaction by the consumer for payment of goods or services. However, in the case of a non-consent towing transaction there is NO expectation of satisfaction by a car owner. To the contrary, they are expected to be dissatisfied. The statement on our site very simply points out our actual "customers" have NEVER complained to BBB's. We are not advertising to towed car owners, rather to individuals, property and business owners who require towing of illegally parked vehicles. I might add, an advertising injury did not occur to Mr. Chiste nor is advertising material to Mr. Chiste's transaction with our company.

Response: This claim is simply reiterating those from the BBB last year (https://www.bbb.org/washington-dc-eastern-pa/business-reviews/towing-automotive/advanced-towing-company-llc-in-arlington-va-8501/Alerts-and-Actions). While I make no claims that this "false advertising" caused me personally any damage, I am pointing this out as a form of "fraud or deceit in the offering or delivering of towing and recovery services" (https://vacode.org/46.2-118/), should the Office of Consumer Protection decide action is warranted against the company. I will note that the deceptive language does not currently appear on the company's home page, but according to internet archives it was there as recently as October 6: https://web.archive.org/web/20160508033518/http://www.advancedtowing.com/. Furthermore, in response to the bold claim that all customers are expected to be dissatisfied: while it is clearly not a crime to provide terrible service since a company knows its "customers" have no choice to take their business elsewhere, it is important to vigorously apply laws to protect consumers since there is often little other form of recourse. On these lines I can provide the names of other alleged victims of Advanced Towing that have contacted me since I started my informational web site.

Lastly, the owner of the company met Mr. Chiste several weeks ago after a meeting they both attended. The company owner gave Mr. Chiste a business card and told him to send his estimates and other information to him directly for review to further mediate his claims. The owner said he got the impression Mr. Chiste was playing games and would not send any information to him. As of this writing he did not send an estimate to Mr. O'Neill or any additional information.

Response: While it is true that I received a business card from Mr. O'Neill, during that conversation he implied that he "would get his lawyers involved" and that a condition of getting the repairs paid for would be to take down my web site, which I was not willing to do. While I have obtained legal advice on this issue, I have not retained counsel and chose not to engage Mr. O'Neill's counsel since they had already indicated to the Arlington Police that they were pursuing some sort of legal action against me for my "investigative journalism" web site.

So, while Mr. O'Neill can make the claim that he had the impression that I was "playing games", I could make the same argument, as my impression was the discussion was focused more on shutting down the web site than discussing actual damages and compensation.

It should also be noted that I have not received a response to any of the 3 emails I have sent to the company (emails are documented on my web site), so Advanced Towing has ignored my written requests. Mr. O'Neill has my contact information and he, too, has not reached out to me in writing to request the bill for the damage. As you have seen in this very reply, the company's representative Mr. Sundstrom is still not conceding that the evidence proves they are at fault for the damage. Consequently, I can only assume that their expectation is to pay me to shut down my informational web site and not compensate me for the negligent damage caused.

At the time, I was also working with Arlington County on a criminal case against Advanced Towing for refusing to provide me a copy of the photographs taken at the time of the tow, so I felt communication at that point would have been inappropriate.

I would be willing to settle the case without going to court, and have always been interested in receiving compensation for the damage caused by the company. But I would not be interested in accepting a payment to silence my voice on my web site, which I believe provides a valuable consumer protection service and has given voice to other victims who have reached out to me with their own stories and asked for additional information. Nor would I be willing to accept any money under any conditions other than simple compensation for damages incurred, as this experience has certainly made me a verbal and outspoken consumer advocate. Nonetheless, if a settlement to pay damages was offered, I would accept the settlement to avoid spending more time and resources in court and through additional litigation.

If you have any other questions regarding his claims please let me know.

Response: Likewise.

Thank you

J. Sundstrom

January 2017 - Why the "second signature" is critically important, and why the state legislature's attempt to undermine it hurts consumers

The powerful Tow Lobby is attempting to pull off a coup. They've got a bill before the state legislature that would roll back all the consumer protections that the Arlington County Board implemented in December. This bill, HB 1960 is an egregious abuse of power. It specifically undermines the board's towing code, raising the towing rate AGAIN (but only in Northern Virginia), override Arlington's "real-time authorization" requirement (again, only in Virginia - VA Beach's "second authorization" law that has been in place for a long time remains untouched), and undermines any semblance of impartiality on the Trespass Tow Advisory Board. Yes, they're literally going out of their way to pass a law singling out only our Arlington Advisory board, and only to get me and the other 9 non-voting members of the board removed, and remove Ms. Iacomini (the sole resident on the board) removed as chairperson. Really, you can't make this up: the towing industry is trying to pass a law REQUIRING Arlington to have a Towing Advisory board to advise on legislation, and FORCING Arlington to remove over half of the members because they're not insiders. Insidious!

The lobby and industry would have you believe this "second signature" law is bad for business and tells them what they can do on their private property. But it is simply a powerful consumer protection law in an industry that has time and again been anti-consumer, damaging private property and conducting illegal tows. The measure doesn't prevent businesses from removing a trespassing vehicle from their property, it simply requires property owners to confirm that said vehicle is trespassing at the time of the tow. We've all heard the Taco Bell Story as evidence that this law is needed, but today I present you with another example.

Let me let reader "F" explain (email complaint to towcomplaints@arlingtonva.us partially modified for clarity and to remove Personally Identifiable Information):

First understand I am a yoga business owner, who responded to my client's car being towed. Erroneously. As such, I am not your normal tow truck victim. In fact, I was not expecting to be nearly stuck by an angry tow truck driver when getting out of my car to assist in retrieving my client's vehicle. I was not the victim of being towed this evening, but I was nearly run down purposefully and out of the blue.

Advanced Towing has no current contract with any entity to tow from our lot on 5th rd. In point of fact, there is no signage enabling them to tow from the area in question, that I control personally.

I am the owner of the business and they stole a car from our lot about 10 hours ago, and then extorted me for $135, because they towed it 50 feet (next door). They refused to release the car even though it is obviously their mistake. They also initially lied about having the car until confronted with video evidence from my surveillace cameras.

Here is video of the car being removed from our lot unlawfully:

Unrelated to that, here is video of a tow truck speeding, driving recklessly and attempting to hit me as arrive to retrieve the car. when I challenge his intimidation techniques of speeding past me and reving his engine, by raising my arms and yelling down the street, he u-turns and almost runs me down. He was swerving at me while reving his engine. The street was full of witnesses including the security guard from mercedes nextdoor who claims he saw the whole thing and agrees the man was driving like a psycho.

We have been at this location for 5 years and have largely ignored their shenanigans but this has crossed a line.

I would like to file a criminal complaint for attempted hit and run and we have many witnesses in addition to the video. The tow driver proceeded to attempt to connect to a car, but actually smashed into the bumper. Later we find out its his own car. I took photos of the tow truck smashing his own car, they are attached but blurry (dark red 4 door sedan).

I told officer capizzi #1605 that I wanted to file a complaint about the reckless driving and that we have surveillance video evidence of the tow truck drivers reck-less driving and intimidation tactics but he did not care to take a complaint (swing shift?). This tow company, our next door neighbors, is out of control.

In the past they have parked their trucks and the cars they tow in our lot, and we have overlooked it because we are good neighbors. They have even occasionally threatened to tow our vehicles if they get blocked in (yes, they're ballsy enough to unlawfully park in our lot, get blocked in and then threaten us).

I will be giving them the news in writing tomorrow that they are banned from our property and if I catch their vehices there I will lock them up myself or tow and impound them. I would appreciate any and all suggestions from you on what my options are.

To be clear - the tow truck driver who owns this red 4 door sedan in attached photos, attempted to run me down tonight when I arrived to pay to retrieve the car from their tow lot. I never even spoke to this person so I don't know what his problem is.

The moral of this story? Simple and obvious: The "second signature" law is designed to protect businesses like his. He has no contract with Advanced Towing, who essentially stole one of his customer's cars. If the second signature requirement had been in place, he would have denied the authorization to tow this car in the first place.

November 2016 - Another car damaged, another injustice, and a tiny reprieve

In November, a reader who we'll call "G" reached out to me with her story. In a nutshell, her car was severely damaged during a tow - both front AND back bumpers. She had just gotten it out of the shop the day before in perfect condition, and was appaled to not only find this damage on her car after the tow, but that Advanced Towing denied they caused it. In this case, she alleges, they even tried to fix some of the damage by using a screw to hold the bumper back on instead of the normal factory-installed clips. Here are some pictures:


She filled what's called a Warrant in Debt in Arlington court, thinking she'll be going to small claims court, where "The judge shall conduct the trial in an informal manner so as to do substantial justice between the parties. The judge shall have the discretion to admit all evidence which may be of probative value although not in accordance with formal rules of practice, procedure, pleading or evidence". In other words, it's like the People's Court; no lawyers are allowed and both sides just present their cases for the judge to "do substantial justice". But, Big Towing has Big Lawyers on their side, and they're aware of a little quirk of the law: "Removal to another Court: Pursuant to The Virginia Code Annotated Title 16.1 Chapter 6 Article 5, Section 16.1-122.4, a defendant has the right to remove the case to the general district court at any point preceding the handing down of the decision by the judge.".

So, G goes to court only to find out that she's not in small claims court, she's in over her head against a lawyer in district court, who immediately has all her evidence thrown out because she's not a lawyer and doesn't know the proper procedures for evidence. Boom, she's out $1,800 and Advanced Towing lives to wreck another car another day.

Here's where I come in. Remember our old friend Arlington County Code § 14.3-11? Specifically: Such record shall be maintained for a period of at least one (1) year from the date of each tow, and shall be made available, during normal business hours, for inspection and copying by any representative of the County authorized to enforce the provisions of this chapter. In addition, the portion of such log or record pertaining to a particular vehicle shall be made available, during normal business hours, for inspection and copying by the owner of the vehicle or the owner's authorized representative?

Since she has since moved and is understandably intimidated by the process given what she's seen on these pages, she makes me her authorized representative to go get a copy of the photograph. My first attempt was unsuccessful; after waiting around for 15 minutes after having the window slammed in my face, an employee tells me they won't be providing me with the pictures because despite the notarized letter, I didn't have a copy of the owner's registration of the car to prove it was her car. But what was notable about this situation was that John O'Neill, the owner, was there, and during the transaction (which I recorded) John stood behind the clerk taking pictures of me and telling me to "smile for the camera". When I left empty-handed, John followed me to my car as what can only be perceived as an act of intimidation, recording me on his phone and making a grand gesture of taking multiple pictures of my car and license plate. The law is clear: I was exercising G's right to a copy of the photographs, and yet John felt it was important to attempt these kinds of intimidation tactics.

The next day, armed with a copy of G's registration, the photograph was waiting for me. Rudeness isn't illegal so I took the window-slam-in-the-face trick again with a grain of salt, but now I had what was legally entitled to G and I: a photograph taken at the time of the tow. Or, as the law says: "The towing and recovery operator performing the tow shall obtain and retain photographic and/or video evidence clearly showing the location of the vehicle, substantiating the reason for its removal, and the condition of the vehicle."

HA! You didn't think this story would have a happy ending did you? THIS is the photograph we were provided with:

The picture suggests that the one in the back (the arrow added is mine) is her car, but obviously this photo doesn't "clearly show the location of the vehicle" nor its condition. So, we filed a complaint with Arlington. It took months and several follow-ups, but as of 1/24/17, Arlington has decided in her favor and returned with the following ruling:

Thanks again to you and Matt for bringing this issue to our attention. We continue to say that our complaint process is not only a way for us to work to address any issues with the towing of the individual, but also highlight areas for us to address with the towers operating in Arlington County, either through ordinance changes or through emphasizing these issues through enforcement actions. That is the case here and we appreciate you making us aware of this.

The County has informed Advanced Towing that the picture taken and provided below does not meet the requirements of the County's ordinance and that you are therefore entitled to a refund for the full amount charged to you. Please contact Advanced Towing at 703-241-2211 and ask to speak to Mike Reynolds - he will take care of this.

With regards to your damage claims, this is civil matter that the County does not have a role in.

So, the moral of this story? First, don't think that small claims court will help you. Hire a lawyer (I'll let you know when I find a good one!) Second, you have a right to these photographs, and the new legislation is even stronger - requiring at least FOUR pictures of your vehicle taken from each corner of the car BEFORE the tow. Third, don't allow these people to intimidate you. Be professional, courteous, and respectful and their attempts to intimidate or embarrass you publicly will fall on deaf ears. Finally, if you feel a law has been broken, file a complaint! The county is actively trying to help consumers when it comes to violations of the law, but will not be able to help you pursue civil damages.

11/29/16 - Results of complaint to The Consumer Counsel of the Office of the Attorney General

As you have seen in the 10/20/16 update, Advanced Towing was brought before the Arlington Circuit Court for failing to provide me with a copy of the "photographs taken at the time of the tow". While I am no lawyer, the textbook definition of perjury seems to apply in that case, as multiple false statements were made during the proceedings, including that I was promised a copy of the picture in question, that there were "5 or 6 customers behind me", and that I had already received a copy of the photograph. For each of these claims:

  • The woman claimed she offered to give me a copy of the photograph "later" when the camera was briefly off "because it was in the back". While it is true that the camera was completely off, the video shows her denying me access for 2 straight minutes after the video starts recording again. Any reasonable observer would know that the claim is false, since it would not make any sense for her to make this offer when the camera was off, and then spend two minutes denying the picture existed "here" over a dozen times.
  • I have shown that the pictures that I got from the police (never from the company itself) were not a copy of the "picture taken at the time of the tow". It was two partial copies of the photo in question that I have attempted to represented here:
  • Finally, for the claim that there were 5 or 6 people in line and I was holding her up by "harassing" her: here's a clip of the end of the video showing the 1 person who had just walked up at the end of the 3 minute encounter:
  • So the judge's ruling overturning the previous criminal conviction was based on the lie that I had already received the pictures. I took this information in my complaint to the Consumer Counsel of the Office of the Attorney General. While I was somewhat disappointed that the office didn't pursue any charges, the investigator was able to accomplish something that my countless hours of work both inside and outside of the courtroom weren't able to do: he got an actual copy of the photograph taken at the time of the tow! I present that picture here, which supports my allegation that the car was moved in the 3 minutes between the first and second photograph (in the second photo the front bumper is several feet from the curb and angled back and to the left, despite the car being parked fully into the spot in the photo 3 minutes earlier):

    The response from Advanced Towing included quite a few gems trying to discredit me, but this one kind of took the cake: "Mr. Chiste's storyline suggests the tow driver damaged his vehicle and insiuates (sic) there is a conspiracy against him of OJ Simpson/LAPD mangintude (sic).". While it was a somewhat ridiculous line, it later allowed me to identify the person trolling me on ARLnow.com's comment section for the blog post Arlington County Board Approves Towing Changes, Despite Some Business Opposition:

    Yes, thank you J. Sundstrom for all your helpful comments on ARLNow.com as it relates to towing, your attempts to discredit me, and for trying to paint all trespass towers as malicious criminals! Keep up the great work behind that anonymous "Amazing Grace" facade.

    12/11/2016 - Call to action - email our County Board to amend the towing code for additional consumer protection!

    I set up a new site at ArlingtonTowCode.com with details. Please visit that site and let your representatives know your thoughts on providing additional consumer protection in the Arlington Code for trespass towing. If you don't, there are currently some amendments proposed that are very detrimental to consumers, and may pass if we don't make our voices heard! The final decisions will be made in the county board meeting on December 13th, which I encourage you to attend and speak at!

    Update 11/29/2016 - Summary of Arlington County Board Meeting on November 5, 2016

    On 11/5/16, the Arlington County Board convened to discuss many topics, notably #40: "Request to authorize advertisement of a public hearing on proposed amendments to Chapter 14.3 of the Arlington County Code, Trespass Towing". Below are my notes attempting to summarize the discussion for those who don't have 90 minutes to watch or listen to the entire thing. It is not a complete transcript and some quotes may not be precise. And while I've attempted to capture all key points in the discussion, I am admittedly biased and there is the possibility I may have missed important details. Please view the video for a more precise recounting of the discussion. Time stamps in the below list are approximate points in the video, not the time of day.

    Video TimestampDiscussion Notes
    3:07Discussion starts. Brian Stout gives a good overview of the purpose of the county code (protecting consumers as well as businesses) and general tow density maps showing tow concentrations.
    3:13

    Mr. Stout summarizes the Staff recommendations based on the two TTAB meetings.

    • Rate increase. This is mandated by state law, and will raise the cost of towing from $135 to $185 in some cases (after-hours on weekends, for example).
    • Addition of a requirement for companies to provide additional information to the county such as proof of insurance.
    • Discussion of enhancing sign requirements, such as signs on the interior of lots or surface paint in the spaces.
    • Removal of requirement to document condition of vehicle. The justification for this is that there's a misunderstanding among vehicle owners that the county has some role to play in damage claims, which is not the case (damage claims are handled in civil court and the county is not involved).
    • Expanding the region of tow destination lots - there are now half as many tow companies as there were when the ordinance originally passed. By expanding the distance outside of Arlington a bit where tow companies can legally tow to, this extension allows 3 more operators to tow in Arlington, increasing competition. [editorial: I'm not exaclty sure that this is a valid point. While these three additional vendors would be brought into the market, business customers pay nothing for the "service" so it would have no effect there. Prices are fixed for tows, so vehicle owners wouldn't benefit in any way. Vehicle owners don't have a choice in what vendor they use, so there is no incentive for any of these companies to provide higher quality or more friendly service. And finally, from the perspective of the vehicle owner, all this means in practice is they'll have to take a cab further out of the county to recover their car.]
    • Changing time requirements in notifying the county when towing. Currently operators have to notify the county "prior to removal from the property"; the amendment is to change that to "within 10 minutes of removal".
    3:26Nancy Iacomini presents the TTAB recommendations.
    • The board's bias is acknowledged: TTAB has 17 members, only 7 of which are voting members - 3 from industry, 3 law enforcement, 1 resident.
    • The original staff draft was to NOT update the provision about when the county is provided notice of a tow. The board voted anyway to change that to "within 10 minutes of a tow".
    • There was discussion of why the photographs are necessary (consumer protection measure), and not as a signal that the county is liable. Nonetheless, the motion to keep that recommendation failed and the official recommendation is to remove the photograph requirement.
    • Another motion that failed was mentioned: the "second signature" requirement, which would require someone responsible for a lot to authorize each tow at the time of the tow. "It would seem appropriate to bring the third leg of the stool into play" - the vehicle owner and tow driver, AND the business itself.
    3:36Public speaker: Jim Hurysz (resident). He suggests that residents could be appointed to the board as the law enforcement representatives, and to consider increased enforcement of handicap spots.
    3:37Public speaker: Kate Bates (representing some property owners, but not clear in the video which organization she belongs to).
    • Encourages board to adopt TTAB proposal.
    • Strongly opposes "second signature" requirement.
    • Made a point that not ALL non-voting residents would support the "second signature". Some of the non-voting members represent businesses as well, and they would be opposed.
    • States that the percentage of improper tows is miniscule and pales in comparison to people contesting parking tickets.
    3:39Public speaker: Sarah McKinley (VP of Columbia Heights Civic Association)
    • We believe the retail community is being harmed by trespass/predatory towing
    • Small businesses fear repercussions from their landlords if they complain about predatory towing
    • Supports change to state legislature to create a better balance in the voting composition of the board
    • Supports "second signature" requirement to create some balance by giving retailers some control of the situation
    • Supports requiring the company to call prior to the tow, not 10 minutes after
    • Suggested taking 4 pictures from each side of car as a consumer protection to protect consumers as well as the towing companies
    • Presented a petition with 75 citizen signatures supporting these amendments
    3:46Jay Fisette proposes three additional amendments for advertisement (which means this is not a final decision, but open to solicit community feedback). He says the goal is modest, limited burden and regulation, but with effective protection of consumers and citizens. He also cites the biased nature of the board and how they have attempted to give others such as property owners, vehicle owners, and even AAA a voice by appointing some non-voting members of the board.
    • Amendment: "Require the Second Signature". His focus is an attempt to be more surgical, and only apply the requirement to commercial properties during business hours. He states that informally, this is already being done at some residential properties because the tow truck driver has to go in for the property manager to check the guest logs.
      • Libby Garvey: opposed it and thought it may be a burden.
      • Katy Cristol: Suggested the requirement need not be a signature; it could be something simpler such as a text message.
      • John Vihstadt: Appreciates the intent, but has practical concerns such as language barrier, having someone available to answer the phone, or liability issues related to owners being involved in confrontations.
      • Christian Dorsey: Asked what's the harm in making this applicable to residential as well as commercial? Mr. Fisette's response was that generally the complaints of predatory towing are on commercial lots so the limit is to address "hot spots", but he wouldn't be opposed to expanding the requirement if it proves successful.
      • John Vihstadt: Pointed out that the written authorization requirement doesn't explicitly require the person to be on-site, and asked if "blanket sign-off" would be allowed? Mr. Fisette's answer is that the language says "at the time the vehicle is being towed", meaning each and every tow would need authorization. However, it does not require the person to be on-site [editorial: this may limit its effectiveness if the requests are just electronic and go to some corporate headquarters or even a computer-automated response system that automatically approves the action].
      • Katie Cristol: The expectation is that there would be an ebb and flow of the business enforcing the tow based on the time of day and lot conditions, and that is not necessarily undesirable.
      • Ms. Garvey: vote, motion passes.
    4:05Data is brought up showing the number of complaints and tows are very low. Mr. Stout mentions the violations and enforcement are complaint-driven, and agrees with Mr. Fisette that the number of complaints and violations is on the low-end since not every complaint is reported through the proper channels. Additionally, a case was discussed where a resident claimed that a no parking sign was knocked down in last year's blizzard, and the signs were improper. The county agreed there was a violation and the customer was refunded. However, if indeed the sign was knocked down during the blizzard, then there technically would have been about 200-250 improper tows, arguably each of them a violation. [editorial: This number is based on a FOIA request I made; the count is an estimate based on this data. I personally believe that each of these people should be able to request a refund as well; if you parked in the Fresh Bikes parking lot between late January and mid-September, you were improperly towed since a sign violation was found].

    The summary of this conversation was simply that the data should be taken for what it is, and it is clearly not representative of 100% of the complaints (since people sometimes just pay and drop the issue, or complain on social media) nor violations (since a single violation might apply to hundreds of tows).

    4:10Mr. Vihstadt mentioned the observation that by contrast there doesn't appear to be any shortage of folks contesting parking tickets, and that it might be helpful to get that comparative data. Mr. Fisette indicated that this was an excellent segue into his next amendment:
    • Amendment: "Require additional information on the receipt".
      • The presumption is that parking tickets DO have contact information on the tickets themselves, which informs users of their rights to contest a ticket. Without similar information provided to tow "customers", many do not make the effort to follow up.
      • The additional language would require the email address and phone number of the complaint line so consumers would know what course of action to take if they objected to a tow.
      • Mr. Vihstadt suggested including the web site for additional information, and all agreed that it would be helpful to inform people prior to complaining, as there may be information legitimizing the tow on the site.
      • [editorial: I suggest that the comparison to parking tickets is fundamentally flawed in the first place. When you get a parking ticket, you go home and make a choice to either pay or contest it. When you get towed, you have no choice but to pay for the tow or they won't release your vehicle - even if there is damage or you felt you were improperly towed. If the procedure at the tow lot was to take your car and THEN choose whether you will submit payment OR contest the tow, the metrics would no doubt be a totally different story.]
      • Ms. Garvey: vote, motion passes.
    4:14Mr. Fisette proposes last amendment.
    • Amendment: "Require tow truck driver to notify the county immediately prior to the tow".
      • Essentially this amendment is to do nothing at all regarding the notice prior to the tow. Currently the language says that a tow truck driver must notify the county "immediately prior to towing", and this amendment is to NOT change that language.
      • This contradicts the TTAB's recommendation to change the language to "within 10 minutes of towing".
      • The justification is that it has been this way for 10 years, and that if a vehicle owner is towed and calls the police immediately, there would be no record of the tow and the person would assume their car was stolen.
      • Ms. Garvey: vote, motion passes.
    4:21Ms. Cristol proposes another amendment.
    • Amendment: "Update the requirement for taking photographs and/or video taken at the time of the tow".
      • This is also in contradiction with the TTAB's recommendations, but the stated goal is to protect the vehicle owner, and potentially incent the driver to take additional care not to damage the vehicle.
      • It is also discussed that the measure could protect the tow company from frivolous damage claims.
      • Mr. Dorsey said he loves the spirit of the amendment, but is not sure about requiring the photo to be provided when the vehicle is picked up. Ms. Iacomini suggests it could be advertised "at their request", but could be stricken later. Mr. Fisette proposes that being able to produce the photos/videos isn't the issue, but whether it should be produced on request or at the moment of pickup. Ms. Iacomini suggests that the information about being able to make that request could also be put on the receipt, which was largely accepted. Mr. Vihstadt voiced concern about requiring too much information on the receipt. [editorial: As any of you who have followed my saga trying to get access to photos taken at the time my vehicle towed, you're likely aware that I spent many hours in court (unsuccessfully) trying to get a full copy. And on November 15, when acting as an authorized representative for another vehicle owner, after being denied access to the photo(s), I was followed to my car and recorded on video by John O'Neill, which appeared to me to be an act of intimidation].
      • Ms. Garvey: vote (on both requiring the photos, and including notice on receipt), both motions pass.
    4:37Closing discussion
    • Mr. Fisette cited an April 2015 ARLNow.com poll, which had 84% voting "They're mostly shady predators out to make a buck" vs. 16% voting "They're mostly just doing their job" (2,740 total responses). His hope is that some of the measures proposed would reduce the sentiment in the county about predatory towing.
    • Mr. Fisette also cited an 2015 ARLNow.com editorial, where a Taco Bell patron parked, walked across the street to get cash from the ATM, then bought dinner in the restaurant. He ran out of the restaurant when he saw his car being towed, and despite showing the Taco Bell receipt, he was told it did not matter because he had left the premises. Mr. Fisette says these are the exact situations that he is trying to protect the consumer from with the "second signature" requirement, as surely a Taco Bell employee would not have wanted their customer to be towed.
    • Mr. Dorsey emphasized the importance of this discussion. He mentioned that when the police seize someone's asset, they have to go through a burden of proof to verify that it was a warranted action. With the towing industry, when someone can have their asset forfeited, "it's a big deal". And it's important to "look out for the interest of consumers while balancing the very real needs of the industry".

    Update 10/26/2016

    The following is the video evidence provided for my complaint to the Division of Consumer Counsel of the Office of the Attorney General, so that they may hopefully bring action against Advanced Towing in Arlington, VA in civil court under § 46.2-119 for a violation of subsection A and B of § 46.2-118:

    A.1. No tow truck driver shall ... Use fraud or deceit in the offering or delivering of towing and recovery services.
    B.1. No towing and recovery operator shall ... Use fraud or deceit in the offering or delivering of towing and recovery services.

    For those of you that didn't have the time or inclination to view the full 17 minute video documenting my situation (which is still embedded below), this 6 minute video is significantly more concise:

    Update 10/20/2016

    First off, my thanks and gratitude go out to Arlington's Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Bill Turner for his work in attempting to prosecute the criminal case against Advanced Towing on July 22nd (guilty verdict) and the appeal on October 20th (charges were dropped). The criminal case is described below, and basically boils down to the fact that as a citizen I have a legal right to get a copy of photographs taken at the time of the tow. (At least for now, as the Trespass Towing Advisory Board has recommended removing the requirement anyway).

    Second, congratulations to Advanced Towing and their lawyer for simply out-lawyering us and securing the win. I respect the judge's verdict and the case for criminal charges is now closed. I'm sharing information about this public case to help others who may try to seek justice in a similar way, and as usual everything on this site is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.

    My first tip in trying to pursue justice this way is: don't. Just accept that there is no justice in the world and that this organization will continue to behave as they have been. Report your frustration to towcomplaints@arlingtonva.us and save yourself further trouble and wasted time - I know I'd love to get back the dozen+ hours I've spent on this! You might go ahead and contribute to the vast pool of complaints on Google, Yelp, the BBB, etc.... but don't expect anything to come of it.

    Of course, you're not here because you're just going to roll over, right? You're going to try to get justice because if you don't speak up, who will? The law is there for a reason, and if a company chooses not to follow it, you want to pursue justice in any way you can! If the case is a criminal one, the first step is to have the Arlington Magistrate file a criminal summons. (Remember, predatory towing is not criminal, but the complaints about not producing pictures, not accepting a drop fee, not calling the tow into the police prior to the tow, etc - these are all legitimate criminal complaints!) The officers who monitor the towcomplaints@arlingtonva.us email address can help you with that process. You would think the officers could just write a ticket or something to the company, but unfortunately that's not the case. Instead, the Magistrate's summons will result in the case being brought in court by the county against the company, and you'll be the witness. You'll spend hours waiting in court, and even if you get a guilty verdict against the company (like I did on July 22), the company will no doubt appeal, so get ready to spend more hours in court for that.

    As a witness you'll present your case, but you're not the plaintiff - which means you can't even talk to the lawyer when the case is being tried. Trust me - you just have to sit back and listen - I tried approaching the lawyer during the trial and was kicked out of the courtroom for a while! You'll also want to have a thick skin and be able to bite your tongue. The Advanced Towing lawyer tried to paint me as a crazy person who's bent on harassing the company. He started the case by making the false claim that I had taken pictures of the screen at the time I picked up the car the first time.

    During my testimony, he asked me questions like "how many times did you call them? 50?". I answered "no, about 3 or 4". His next question was "Oh, 3 or 4 times per day?". He did the same thing about emails, implying I sent dozens (of course, they know I only sent 3-4 and they ignored every single one of them - you can see those emails at the bottom of this page). He even brought up this web site, which arguably has nothing to do with the fact that the company didn't allow me access to a copy of the photograph.

    The crux of their counter-claim was that these photos have already been provided. I explained twice (and even got thrown out of the courtroom trying to explain a third time by approaching the lawyer's desk!), but my advice to you guys is to cover every single base the first time. In my mind the fact they haven't provided me with the full photograph is cut and dry - but they convinced the judge that they had provided the photo. What they did provide is a camera phone picture of the originals off of their computer monitor. Here's one photo they provided (I put it inside a mocked-up monitor to make my point here):

    They sent two other pictures, but a) they're only two parts of the original photo and not the whole thing, and b) unlike the original, these photographs were not taken at the time of the tow. They are partial copies of the original; I've mocked up what the original picture should look like based on the two partial shots I have:

    So they convinced the judge they have already provided the photos, via one false statement during the opening statement and one failure on my part to explain that these are not the photos taken at the time of the tow. Again, I'd have loved to be able to explain this when I walked up to the lawyer, but got kicked out instead because, hey, first time in court, ya know :)?

    I was allowed back in the court room after a few minutes but never had an opportunity to speak again. Instead I had to listen to the clerk who showed up in that video below testify. She made a claim that "the second picture is on another computer in the back". As you can see in my video, she never mentioned that in the recording. Another claim was that the recording doesn't show the whole conversation. This is true since she took my phone to take a picture of the computer screen, but then she went a step further and made the claim that she told me when the camera was off that "[I] could come back later to get a copy of the picture but she was busy because there was a line of 5 or 6 customers behind me". Of course, I was never given the opportunity to refute this claim, or request that they prove the claim with their own security camera recordings. (Strange how their security camera footage makes an appearance when it's beneficial to them, but that's another issue.).

    Clearly it's her word against mine that she made those two comments. I say this because if you're going to court, you really need to think about every single possible statement - true or false - that the other side can make, and try to address it before it comes up. For example, if I'd have known the judge was going to be confused about me not having a copy of the picture taken at the time of the tow, I'd have produced the above graphics to demonstrate what I meant about them not being the actual photographs. If I'd have known that the clerk would claim that she told me I could come back later for pictures, I'd have made the case that why did she spend the next 3 minutes in the video saying the photo "is not here", rather than saying "just come back later"? Her testimony was that basically she told me to come back later when she was holding my phone, and then spent the next 3-4 minutes denying she had the picture there. Logically it doesn't make sense that she'd say one thing when the camera is off briefly and another for 3 full minutes when it was on, but again - one person's word vs. the other.

    Or, if I'd have known she was going to testify that there were 5 or 6 people in line, which is why she didn't have time to get the other picture, I'd have produced this part of the video, showing just 1 person in line as I walked away, and I would have testified that that person had just walked up at the end of the 3 minute interaction:

    Finally, be aware that the other side may try to mischaracterize your intentions. In this case, the lawyer convinced the judge that I only went back for the photos to "harrass" them because I already had a copy. But given that I still to this day don't have a copy, why is this photo important to me? Because, as mentioned in the video below, I believe that the full version of that second photo - taken 3 minutes after the first - will prove that the vehicle was moved between when the first photograph was taken and when the second one is. That proof is what I wanted to pursue the damage claim in civil court, which is also why I believe they have steadfastly refused to release this photo.

    All of this is to say, before you go to court, be ready! Try to think of every possible claim the other side can make, and don't make the assumption that every claim will be truthful. And of course, no matter how strong you think your case is or how obvious it seems, be prepared to lose. In my case, while the law says a copy of photographs taken at the time of the tow have to be provided to the vehicle owner, the judge dismissed the case because of the (false) claim that I already had a copy of both pictures. So, fight the good fight, but know that the process is long, complicated, and may not always end up with the judgment you're looking for.

    Good luck out there, don't park where you're not to, and as always drop me a line at advancedtowingfraud@gmail.com if you feel you've been victimized by this industry - one of the few industries with the luxury of having involuntary customers with no choice to bring their business elsewhere.

    Update 9/29/2016

    The last towing advisory board meeting was on 9/15. You can view the meeting packet here, and the minutes of that meeting here. As I am now a non-voting member of the board, I had a unique opportunity to speak on behalf of residents, and wanted to share my thoughts with the Arlington Community and specifically the Arlington County Board. These thoughts are coming from me as an Arlington resident and victim of Advanced Towing's criminal and negligent activity, and in no way represent the opinion of the board itself. (Full disclosure: "criminal activity" refers to the misdemeanor conviction against Advanced towing which is currently under appeal, and "negligent activity" has not yet been proven in small claims court.)

    The meeting was cordial and I am in awe of how Nancy Iacomini gracefully handles the board as Chairperson, even as the only "independent" person on the board (comprised of her, 3 members of the industry, and 3 members of the police force). The tow industry brought along its usual cadre of lawyers and lobbyist who heckled more than once, questioning the legitimacy of her as chairperson, the board itself, and the "suspiciousness" of the timing of the meetings. When someone balked at what term to use for vehicle owners, they called out "Lawbreakers! They're lawbreakers!" ... as if that doesn't mean us "lawbreakers" have rights (and ignoring the fact that I have proven once in court that Advanced Towing has broken the law as well).

    Again, the meeting minutes are here: https://arlingtonva.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2016/06/TTAB-Recommendations-to-County-Board-9.23.16.pdf as part of the public record. What follows is my own personal opinion and thoughts on the deliberation, and is not a representation of the board's opinion or stance on these matters. However, in November or December (date is TBD), these recommendations will be made to the Arlington County Board to be codified into law. I strongly encourage all interested parties of this industry to attend and take advantage of the public hearing, as these recommendations are not yet set into Arlington law. I strongly recommend going here to sign up for email updates so you're notified when this date is set.

    And now, some highlights of the 9/15 board meeting:

    • The county is trying to put a bunch of requirements in place to have the industry submit paperwork like their driver's licenses and truck inspections, which of course they opposed - but that amendment passed because the police voted for it.
    • Despite my vehement argument about removing the requirement to take photographs at the time of the tow (amendment #12), they basically argued that it's "too hard to enforce" and won that vote, which will remove that requirement. Yay! Free-for-all for the drivers to smash whatever they want and then lie about it because they're the only eye-witness! I guess it doesn't really matter much since they don't follow that existing law anyway (this comment is related to the criminal misdemeanor conviction I referred to above).
    • The industry had somehow gotten a line from an earlier draft removed, which doesn't have much teeth but I was able to get it re-added (amendment #10): "Nothing in this section shall release tow truck drivers from liability for failure to use reasonable care while towing a vehicle".
    • They killed the "second signature" requirement, which would have required property owners to personally sign off on each tow. John O'Neil's argument (as a very large man) was that if he were the person being towed and Nancy Iacomini (a petite woman) was the property owner, he would be able to intimidate her into not providing the second signature. In all honesty I have somewhat mixed feelings about this - property owners have a right to refuse people to allow parkers after-hours, or otherwise do whatever they want with their property. And the second-signature requirement would make it virtually impossible for business owners to restrict their lots at night when they're not around. AND, I concede that John's argument about intimidation does have merit when the tow driver, business owner, and vehicle owner are all forced into a confrontation on-site.
    • But, here's the coup de grâce they got passed: the industry has argued for years against the requirement to call in a tow to the police BEFORE initiating it. The law is in place so that a vehicle owner may call the police if their car is missing, and they can get information about whether their car was towed and by whom. The industry made feeble claims that it's a "safety issue", and produced a packet with a bunch of news articles about violence in the industry. The packet was ridiculous, and cited examples of fights starting AT TOW LOTS (not at the point of tow anyway), AGAINST POLICE who were called in (not against the drivers), and FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY (nothing from Arlington that I saw). So this tiny sample size among a country of 300 million people was supposed to illustrate that tow drivers are at grave risk when they have to wait in the lot for the call to go through to the police. Instead they wanted a 10 minute head-start to get the car out quickly so "there's no risk of confrontation" - and they got it passed (amendment #13). This one I find wildly offensive for a multitude of reasons:
      1. John's argument about "avoiding confrontation for safety reasons" is bogus, and is completely different than his initial point about a physically larger vehicle owner intimidating a physically smaller business owner out of providing the second signature. Business owners may come in all shapes and sizes, and may be more vulnerable to intimidation, which is why that argument has merit. BUT, tow truck drivers do NOT come in "all shapes and sizes". Tow truck drivers are usually large, intimidating males themselves. So the possibility of a confrontation - physical or verbal - is simply an occupational hazard for them, and there is a certain type of person (in terms of physique) that gets hired for this type of job. If an altercation ensues, then the driver can and should immediately call the police, who are trained to respond to such situations. And, before you start thinking "that's not fair to put these guys in harm's way on the one in a million chance there's a physical altercation, and the 'occupational hazard' argument is ridiculous", let me simply point out another profession: bouncers at bars. These are people that:
        1. interact with lots of people and must have some semblance of "people skills" (bouncers, I mean, not tow truck drivers) to handle confrontations,
        2. carry a small "occupational hazard" risk of a physical confrontation (in their case due to the presence of alcohol rather than the "road-rage" of being towed),
        3. are usually larger males who can fend for themselves, and
        4. have the option to call the police if any altercation occurs.
      2. I contend that the industry demanding this change is strictly for financial reasons. Simply put, the industry would rather be able to bilk a vehicle owner for $135-$185 for a "successful" tow, rather than collect a $25 on-site drop fee. ("term justification": I called Advanced Towing to get a quote for a voluntary tow and gave them locations identical to my "involuntary" tow, which cost $135. They quoted me "$80-$90" for the voluntary tow. So I stand by the use of term "bilk" since there is no justification for a 33% markup when consumers don't have a choice of which provider to use.)
      3. It's unfair to not give the vehicle owner an opportunity to correct the problem. The business just wants the car removed, so they have a favorable outcome either way. This change of law has no effect on the business, benefits the tow driver, and harms residents.
      4. It's unfair to have a 10 minute window of calling in the tow because if the owner comes back to the lot in that window and calls the police, there will be no record of the tow or which lot their car is heading to, and they'll think the car was stolen.

    So... that's about it for now. Drop me a line at advancedtowingfraud@gmail.com if you've got any opinions about the meeting, the industry, or a specific company - positive or negative!

    Thanks,

    -Matt

Update 7/15/2016

Wow, it's been an interesting week!

I started this site back in April to expose the fraudulent and deceptive practices of one Arlington tow company, but it feels like it has grown to so much more. I have heard from many of you out there who have been victims as well, and also from a shopowner who wanted to make his voice heard in this complicated dialog. While deceit - especially in a "self-policing" industry where customers don't even have a choice to do business with a different vendor - is inexcusable, I understand this all does fit into the larger question of how to strike a balance between parkers, businesses, and the tow companies we have essentially "deputized" to enforce our trespass laws for us.

I'm going to try and figure out how to update this site to be more readable - probably in a blog-type format - as it's getting pretty overwhelming to try and digest it all as it is. Once I do that I'll post reader comments and more stories I've heard from both sides of this argument. And of course, I'll also fact-check the remaining content to ensure everything is still 100% true and accurate to the best of my knowledge (for example - since this site has gone up, Arlington has posted a treasure trove of new documentation regarding the towing advisory board, and Advanced Towing has withdrawn the deceptive claim on their site about "Zero BBB Customer Complaints").

Until then, I want to share a few updates and thoughts from my meeting yesterday with Jay Fisette and a few other county employees, as well as the public hearing that took place last night:

  • ALRNow: Thanks to ARLNow.com for drawing attention to this issue!
  • Meeting with Arlington County Board: Mr. Fisette and his team were incredibly gracious and seemed generally interested in listening to public comments and acting on them. I briefly described my personal issue and we spent quite a bit of time on the question of "what good is an ordinance if these 'self-policing' tow companies choose not to follow them, and there isn't a clearly defined recourse?" I also addressed the four issues from the last towing advisory meeting and why I felt they were all skewed in the favor of the industry rather than consumers (more on this later).
  • Tow Advisory Board facts: The Towing Advisory Board is indeed composed of 1 member of the public, 3 tow company owners, and 3 police officers. It hardly seems representative, but that's just what's set by state law. Nonetheless, this is just an advisory board that makes recommendations to the County Board, who isn't required to follow any particular regulations. In other words, they're not the guys actually making the laws, just making recommendations.
  • Upcoming changes to Arlington Tow Code: Aside from the state-mandated raise in towing fees that went into effect on 7/1, there are some changes being proposed that will potentially go into effect some time after the next/last Towing Advisory Board meeting on 9/15. Not only would I encourage you to attend that meeting, but you can also view and COMMENT ON the proposed changes here.
  • Objection to removing the requirement for photographs taken during tow: During the public hearing on 7/14, I briefly spoke about my situation and how the photographs taken to "document the condition of the vehicle" are helpful to consumers (and for that matter, to tow truck companies who should be able to generally use it for their defense). I objected to the plan to completely remove that legislation because it's "too hard to enforce", on the grounds that it's often the ONLY thing that victims of damaged vehicles have to go on when making a case, since the only eyewitness is the driver with a vested interest in being dishonest.
  • Everyone congratulated themselves for deceptive numbers, acting like these were some kind of "customer satisfaction survey": There was an amazing amount of "self-congratulations" going around. From the towing representatives on the board to the lawyers who represented them during their public speaking time, there was a lot of bragging about how there were only 87 complaints in 2015 despite 18,642 tows. I made the point during my time that this number is deceptive, since many people don't know HOW to complain the "right way" (towcomplaints@arlingtonva.us) to get counted in this number. Instead, they make their opinions heard on social media like Yelp and Twitter or other sites like ARLNow.com or the Better Business Bureau - none of those complaints are actually tracked in that number (although there are no doubt duplicates - for example, I've complained loudly on all of those sites).
  • Lawyer tells advisory board to "tread lightly" and implies they've illegally elected a chairperson who doesn't qualify: The lawyer representing the tow companies locally complained about the new regulations to file certain paperwork with the county (like insurance documents, etc.), and the "big wig" lawyer who I guess represents the industry at the state level said the same. Their message was basically the same: there is no problem in Arlington. If I was able to report less than a 1% complaint ratio at Apple, I'd get a promotion! (that was actually his example, immediately after I made the case that the number is deceptive and under-reported anyway). And he even threatened the board by telling them to "tread lightly", because "the chairman of the advisory committee according to state law has to be an industry insider". And because this particular advisory board nominated the one civilian member as chair, he ominously implied the board was illegitimate. Personally I think he's full of it - the state law doesn't mention anything about this. Of course, he WAS wearing an expensive suit so he probably knows what he's talking about.
  • Predatory Towing and the use of spotters is legal: Aside from me, the only other public speaker was a woman named Florence, who told a story about being a victim of "predatory towing" (ironically enough, not even in Arlington County). While her situation was unfortunate, it would be unfair for me NOT to point out that everything about that tow was completely legal. While distasteful, spotters and predatory towing practices are completely legal, and honestly make some sense to me (how else is a business going to ensure their spots are only used by their customers?). If Florence felt she was entitled to use the parking lot of a business she's not patronizing "only for about 15-20 minutes", what's to stop anyone else from doing the same? Whether she was "in a medical facility" or not, by law she was trespassing. Maybe there should be some sort of grace period, maybe there should be some other way for businesses to protect their spots, but the cold truth is that she parked illegally by her own admission, and got towed because of it. Until people like her come to these meetings and speak up not only about their experience but about what they propose to fix the problem, that's the way it's going to stay.

An open letter

This is an open letter to the following people and organizations:

  1. The Arlington County Board to review the composition of the Trespass Vehicle Towing Advisory Board for deep conflicts of interest and [Edit 6/16/16: It seems this is mandated by State Law] to consider amending legislation to better protect consumers.
  2. The Division of Consumer Counsel of the Office of the Attorney General to bring action against Advanced Towing in Arlington, VA in civil court under § 46.2-119 for a violation of subsection A and B of § 46.2-118:
    A.1. No tow truck driver shall ... Use fraud or deceit in the offering or delivering of towing and recovery services.
    B.1. No towing and recovery operator shall ... Use fraud or deceit in the offering or delivering of towing and recovery services.
  3. The residents of Arlington County - particularly those who have been aggrieved by Advanced Towing and are willing to make their voices heard, such as the 111 residents who have contributed to Yelp's 1-star rating of the company, the 45 residents who have contributed to the company's F rating on the Better Business Bureau, the 196 largely negative comments on ARLNow.com's blog post, or individuals such as Cody Chance who also contends he has been victimized by the company. Please contact me at advancedtowingfraud@gmail.com if you have been a victim of this company as well.
  4. The local media such as NBC Washington and ARLNow.com to expose this company and help fight for consumer rights.

Facts supported by evidence

The facts and evidence presented in the below text and video will demonstrate that Advanced Towing in Arlington, Virginia:

  • Negligently damages vehicles
  • Fabricates evidence to try to dispute claims of damage
  • Ignores evidence provided to them that the damage was their responsibility
  • Makes legal threats to attempt suppression of that evidence
  • Uses deceptive advertising on its web site
  • Violates Arlington County code allowing vehicle owners access to photographs
  • Charges involuntary customers almost 60% more than voluntary customers
  • Has had countless complaints against them in the media

Balancing consumer protection with towing industry services

The towing industry in Arlington, Virginia is a dirty, largely unregulated business. The regulations that are in place were put there by industry insiders - and are often not even followed if the many complaints on Yelp or the Better Business Bureau are to be believed. While most "trespass tows" are inconvenient and infuriating, they are in fact perfectly legal and don't result in vehicle damage. Predatory towing is unsavory but not illegal, and there is no grace period provided in the County's ordinance. But at the same time, customers of these tow companies do have a reasonable expectation that their vehicles will not be damaged in the towing process, and that the drivers will take care to practice their trade responsibly. If a vehicle is damaged, customers have a reasonable right to expect compensation for that damage. At very least they have a right to a reasonable investigation on the part of the towing company without being victims of lies and deceit. I have personally been such a victim, and this site is intended to expose that fraudulent behavior with a preponderance of evidence.

Deceitful advertising in definition of "customer"

First, a word about the term "customer". Whether willingly or unwillingly, when my vehicle was towed I became a customer of Advanced Towing. On their web site, the company attempts re-define "customer" as: "Individuals, private property owners, and businesses who require towing services, not owners of vehicles towed from private property are our customers.". They do this to make the deceptive claims: "Zero BBB Customer Complaints" and "The BBB has a zero complaint rating from our customers". This is simply deceit, and illegal under § 46.2-118. The Better Business Bureau agrees (emphasis mine):

On July 14, 2015, the BBB contacted the business regarding its website advertisement stating, "The BBB has a zero complaint rating from our customers." The BBB requested that the company modify the claim since BBB policies define a consumer of the business as someone who has a commercial relationship with a business. Under BBB national policy commercial relationships are created when a business does work for a customer or when services are rendered to a third party that has an effect on the complainant. The claim was based on the BBB's Code of Advertising General Principles prohibiting claims which are untrue or misleading. The company has placed under its ad claim language that indicates that it does not regard the complainants to be customers as it states their customers are the owners of the properties from which they remove cars. The company also answered the BBB's inquiry by making a similar statement. In the opinion of the BBB, the company has not substantiated its claim.

Consumers deserve protection from deceitful business practices

Now that we've properly defined "customer" we can assume that we have certain rights under the Consumer Protection Act, among other things. Specifically, § 59.1-200. Prohibited practices of the Consumer Protect Act prohibits:

"14. Using any other deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, or misrepresentation in connection with a consumer transaction".
We can also make the general assumption that, for a tow company, unwilling customers (illegally parked vehicles that have been towed) vastly outnumber the willing customers (property owners and residents needing roadside assistance) since there are multiple tows from individual lots. This is an important point that underscores the need for additional regulation; it is clear that this "self-regulating" industry neglects to provide any consumer protection to the vast majority of its customers simply because it can, since that majority of its customers are unwilling participants in the "commercial relationship" and are unable to take their business elsewhere.

Imagine if a rental car company charged you for damaging a vehicle you rented, since you are responsible for damage to a vehicle in your possession. If you didn't do it, your first action would be to appeal the decision and provide evidence that, say, the damage already existed when you rented the car. If the company was reputable, they would have a process in place to review the evidence and make a decision on the counter-claim. They may even cut you a break if it's a "borderline" case because they're interested in keeping your business. If they were not reputable or the situation wasn't resolved to your satisfaction, you as a customer could simply stop doing business with them.

With towing companies, there is no incentive to provide any meaningful service or consumer protection because they don't have to do anything to "keep" your business. Worse, they appear to feel free to demonstrate negligence during towing, deceit during the appeals process, and blatant lawbreaking during the investigation (all these facts will be proven in my video below). Their logic is obvious: most of their victims are out a couple hundred or thousand dollars and won't have the time or energy to fight them individually in court - and they are aware that the Arlington County Police will not intervene in most cases since they call these "civil matters". I do find it gravely suspicious that if a tow truck driver rear-ends you at a stop sign or throws a rock through your window, as a citizen you have a right to file a police report - but if that same driver rips your bumper off your car during a tow because they failed to check its position, you can't. Only stricter regulation and strong fines will act as a disencentive to continue these practices, since this is an industry unaffected by "normal" capitalistic forces.

The Towing Advisory Board is less transparent than other boards and is run largely by industry insiders

Edit 6/16/16: It seems this is mandated by State Law. Nonetheless, I have left this section in here to illustrate the fact that the board is not completely unbiased in their advising to the Arlington County Board, and that should be taken into account when developing new legislation.

Speaking of regulations, I have spent a tremendous amount of time dealing with this situation but as close as I can tell, Arlington County Code such as Chapter 14-3 Towing and Storage of Vehicles is passed by the Arlington County Board under advisement from the Trespass Vehicle Towing, Advisory Board. Here's what's really weird - on that page, a full 90% of all board- and manager-appointed groups are links providing details about the various groups and commissions, but the "Trespass Vehicle Towing, Advisory Board" is not a link allowing residents to get additional details. Many of the other links, such as the Bicycle Advisory Committee provide details, including meeting notes, contact information, and members. The closest way I could find WHO is a member of the Towing Advisory Board was to search the 2015 appointments, and the results were amazing. [Edit 7/13/16: It seems this has been fixed! There is now a link to the Trespass Towing Advisory Board page with all kinds of additional information - including the fact that the board is open to public comments for some new changes they're putting in place. More on this later..] Of the seven VOTING members of the board, 6 members are either Arlington Police or representatives of the towing industry, including John O'Neill, who runs Advanced Towing. As one commenter on this ARLNow post Who Will Tow the Tow Truck? showing a driver sleeping in his truck parked in a no-parking zone says: "The lunatics are running the asylum - the owner of Advanced Towing, John O'Neill, sits on Arlington County's Towing Advisory Board.".

Here's the breakdown of the composition of the advisory board as far as I can tell from 7/21/15:

Non-voting MembersVoting Members
Resident - Noah SmithTowing Industry - Al Leach
Residential Property Owners - Bruce MacQueenTowing Industry - John O'Neill
Residential Property Owners - Charles ClohanTowing Industry - Fred Scheler
Commercial Property Owners - Brian GordonArlington County Police Department - Sergeant Paula Brockenborough
Consumer Organizations - Charles AbernathyArlington County Police Department - Darren Cassedy
Tenants and Citizens - Matt HussmanArlington County Police Department - Detective Tom Rakowski
Tenants - Joshua RobinsonArlington County Residents - Nancy Iacomini
Arlington County Police Department - Sergeant Steven Meincke

The history shows favorable legislation arising from these insiders

I wasn't able to find much in the way of meeting minutes documenting what this board does - although I found this interesting file on arlington.granicus.com. It appears to be a proposal for amendments to Arlington's towing code proposed in 2009, although I haven't found anything else out about that site as it's password-protected. Nonetheless, it provides some interesting insights:
  • Trespass towing rates are higher than consensual rates. It starts listing the history of prices for "trespass towing" and the current rates (as of 2009) for "consensual tows". As of 2007, "trespass tows" had a base tow fee of $100, while most towing companies quoted $75 for initial hookup and $3/mile. Using Advanced Towing's rates and the farthest place in Arlington from Advanced Towing I could find (5 miles), that means that in 2009, consensual tows in Arlington would cost at most $90 and non-consensual tows would cost $100. Of course, the majority of tows within Arlington would be even lower because they are closer; I was only 2 miles from their impound lot - and that was 2009. In 2016, I paid $135 for the non-consensual tow. Compare this to the "$80-$90" quoted to me by Advanced Towing when I called and asked about a consensual tow for the same distance. Are "administrative costs" REALLY that high?
  • A requirement to provide a sheet to customers explaining contact information was dropped. § 14.7-7.2, in the original draft, had this language:
    a consumer information sheet, supplied by Arlington County, which will include, among other things, the fee limits and operator requirements established by this Chapter, the non-emergency telephone number of the Police Department, the business telephone number of the County official responsible for handling consumer complaints, and any other information the County determines is necessary to provide to the vehicle owner or his agent. The consumer information sheet shall also include a statement informing the consumer that a copy of the sheet shall be provided to them by the towing and recovery operator with their receipt.

    Nice, a regulation to give a sheet of paper along with the receipt containing some consumer protection information, right? Look at how this clause somehow got re-written by 2014:

    a notice to vehicle owners, provided by Arlington County, which includes information regarding the County's towing ordinance and the contact information for the Arlington County Police Department. Such notice shall be posted in both English and Spanish.
    .

    § 14.3-8.B was also removed in the final draft about what should be provided with the receipt: "In addition, the towing and recovery operator shall provide to the vehicle owner or agent a photocopy of the consumer information sheet referenced in Section 14.3-7A(2)". Goodbye consumer protection!

  • Legislation was added to allow inspections, but not to provide any appeal process. On the flip side, § 14.3-7.D was inserted since the initial draft in 2009:
    The vehicle owner shall have the opportunity to inspect the vehicle and any items contained therein prior to payment. No towing and recovery operator shall require a vehicle owner to sign any waiver of the owner's rights to receive compensation for damage to the owner's vehicle as a condition of the vehicle's release.

    Of course this strangely omits any explicit definition of the damage caused by the tow company being their responsibility, but having the right to "inspect the vehicle prior to payment" is pretty useless anyway when the company simply produces fabricated evidence (a fact proven below), and it's an obviously pointless clause because having the right to inspect before payment means nothing since the company would simply not release the car if there was a dispute over damage. Basically this clause gives the right to the tow company to hold a damaged car indefinitely (presumably at $50/day) if an owner has a dispute about damage and refuses to pay for the tow.

Video Evidence

My Story - representative of many other complaints

  • On 4/19/16, Advanced Towing in Arlington, VA towed my Jeep and did a substantial amount of damage to it. I produced evidence for them showing how the damage occurred, and they contend that they took a picture of the damage to the vehicle before the car was towed. The evidence shows that the bumper was dragged across a piece of rebar, and the picture taken by the driver was clearly after the accident in an attempt to cover it up. They refused to repair the damage and continue to deny any evidence.
  • In addition to showing fabricated "evidence" that the car was damaged before it was towed, Advanced Towing has violated Arlington County Code § 14.3-11 by denying me access to these photographs - punishable by a fine up to $1,000:

    § 14.3-11. Records.

    A. Every towing and recovery operator shall maintain a record of the following information for each vehicle that it has towed from a location within the County:

    1. the date and time that the vehicle was towed;
    2. the date and time that the vehicle entered the facility at which it was placed for storage;
    3. the make, model, year, VIN number, and license plate number of the vehicle;
    4. the address of the property from which the vehicle was removed;
    5. the name and address of the person and/or entity who authorized the tow;
    6. the video or photographs taken at the time of the tow;
    7. the towing and storage fees actually charged;
    8. the date and time the vehicle was reclaimed, and by whom; and
    9. a copy of the receipt provided to the vehicle owner or agent.

    B. Such record shall be maintained for a period of at least one (1) year from the date of each tow, and shall be made available, during normal business hours, for inspection and copying by any representative of the County authorized to enforce the provisions of this chapter. In addition, the portion of such log or record pertaining to a particular vehicle shall be made available, during normal business hours, for inspection and copying by the owner of the vehicle or the owner's authorized representative.

    (Ord. No. 06-11, 7-8-06; Ord. No. 07-18, enacted 12-15-07; Ord. No. 09-15, 5-16-09)

    § 14.3-12. Violations. Except as otherwise specifically provided, any violation of this chapter is unlawful and punishable by a fine not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000.00).

    (Ord. No. 06-11, 7-8-06; Ord. No. 07-18, 12-15-07; Ord. No. 09-15, 5-16-09)

  • The below video will prove the following:
    • My vehicle was damaged on 4/19 in the parking spot it was towed from.
    • I could not have caused the damage because the car clears the curb when it is in drive and reverse.
    • The damage could only have been caused with the car in park and being lifted from the back.
    • Advanced Towing provided fabricated evidence that the damage was already there.
    • Advanced Towing initially refused to view video evidence, then once they did review it threatened to sue to suppress that evidence:

      Sgt. Brockenborough:

      It is my understanding photos were reviewed during his initial inquires and the damage he claims appeared to be present prior to towing.

      We sent the website he posted to our attorney. As a result counsel said there are sufficient grounds for a civil suit against Mr. Chist and we have authorized him to begin that process.

      I will forward the info we have to you. If you need anything else please let me know.

      Thank you

      Mike

      Advanced

    • In visiting the company to get a copy of the two photographs taken at the time of the tow, I was illegally denied access.
    • Advanced Towing using deceptive advertising on its web site, alleging a different definition of "customer" than defined by the Better Business Bureau.
  • Everything on this web site is fact, truthful and accurate as known by me, and supported by evidence. Advanced Towing has indicated that it plans to sue me for exposing these facts on this web site. I will not be intimidated by them, and will simply reference my right to expose these facts does not in any way meet the definition of defamation.





A Call To Action

Arlington County Board

To Libby Garvey, Jay Fisette, Katie Cristol, Christian Dorsey, and John Vihstadt:

  • Conduct an investigation into conflicts of interest on the Towing Advisory Board; a 7 member group comprised of 3 police officers and 3 towing industry insiders does not represent the best interest of citizens.
  • Insist on more transparency on your web site, specifically related to the Trespass Vehicle Towing, Advisory Board listed at commissions.arlingtonva.us. Ask why that group hasn't posted an official list of members, meeting minutes, or information about events like others on the page have.
  • Consider additional legislation to curb abuses such as the one I have documented here and others who have had similar problems. The following is a list I have compiled over time and not all are completely practical, but as you can see there are a great number of possible legislative rules that can curb abuses to residents such as myself:
    • Allow residents to file a police report after an incident like this. It is very odd that the county code requires tow truck drivers to report a tow to Arlington Police prior to performing it, but a resident can't file a police report when damage has been done. Why is it that I can file a police report if a tow truck driver throws a rock through my window or rear-ends me at a red light, but not when he damages my vehicle when it's being towed? This is not to just cause more work for the Arlington Police, but to allow citizens to report these types of events for better tracking and accountability (in addition to potential insurance implications).
    • Bring back the "information sheet" requirement mentioned in a 2009 meeting that requires tow companies to provide an information sheet to customers explaining their rights and who to contact in the event of a dispute.
    • Require dashcams in tow trucks, particularly rear-facing. This isn't that outrageous, considering the plummeting cost of dash cams, and the fact that more and more other public services and companies (like police cars and taxis) use them. The cost of storage of those videos would be acceptable if the legislation didn't explicitly require the video to be kept for 1 year. Instead customers could be given the option to copy the video themselves or request that a specific video be maintained for a year if there is a dispute. This wouldn't be ideal since Advanced Towing has demonstrated the willingness to fabricate evidence (photos taken after they did the damage), but it would harder to fake video evidence.
    • Implement the "two-signature requirement" that Jay Fisette considered last year: requiring owners of parking lots to provide a second signature offering a tow.
    • Require owners to pay a small part of the cost of the tow. As Mr. Fisette says in that article: "There are not many businesses where you can get a free service and it takes it completely off your hands. You have no cost. The tow companies charge the property owner nothing. The property owner is happy to just get rid of the problem for free. They have, in some ways, more responsibility and should exert more responsibility and authority". If the cost of a tow is $135, then having $10-$20 of that come from the business owner itself could help curb predatory towing practices, and it could also help to incentivize businesses to allow parking after-hours on their lots like Arlington County itself does. From Arlington's site:

      Q: Why doesn't Arlington County force businesses to share parking outside of normal business hours?

      A: Arlington County does not have the authority to tell private property owners how to control their property. Arlington encourages businesses to share parking, and some successful arrangements are in place. Free parking is also available at parking garages in Arlington County Government facilities after 5 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends.

    • Specify a minimum fine for infractions of Arlington code. While a maximum fine is documented in the Arlington code for infractions like refusing to provide customers with photographs taken at the time of the tow, no minimum fine is specified. I filed the complaint and requested the maximum fine of $1,000 to towcomplaints@arlingtonva.us on 5/15 and will update this site when I find out what fine, if any, was levied for the infraction.
    • Explicitly state that consumers have a right to expect their car won't be damaged. It is of course implicit that a consumer has this right, but updating the regulations stating that towing must be done with care and without damaging vehicles would help in future incidents. It would also be appropriate to require a tow company to accept evidence rather than simply accepting the risk of getting sued by a small fraction of the vehicles that they damage. A company that has no financial incentive to provide quality service for the the majority of its customers will naturally choose to deny 100% of claims - unless they are incented by regulation such as this. This is not unprecedented; I suggest language used in other states:
      California (V C Section 22651.07): "Generally the owner of a vehicle may recover for any damage to the vehicle resulting from any intentional or negligent act of a person causing the removal of, or removing, the vehicle."

      Texas (Texas Transportation Code - Section 684.084): "(a) A towing company or parking facility owner who violates this chapter is liable to the owner or operator of the vehicle that is the subject of the violation for:

      (1) damages arising from the removal or storage of the vehicle"

Arlington County Residents

  • Make your voice heard! Whether you try to pursue legal action like Cody Chance on his GoFundMe page, truthfully document the egregious behavior of Advanced Towing on Yelp, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, or post to a forum like NextDoor.com (account required), you'll be amazed at the number of other people who claim that they too have been victimized by this company.
  • Unfortunately, for a morally bankrupt company like Advanced Towing (let's call that one a opinion rather than fact; you be the judge), they may produce fabricated evidence to deny your claim and make it difficult to attest anything in court, since the driver is often the only eyewitness to any claims of negligence. But there is still a chance to file a suit in Small Claims Court (which is what Arlington recommends. I will update this site with more information when/if I pursue this route.
  • Contact the Arlington County Board and let your feelings be known about the situation and what you think can be done to rectify it. You can email all five board members at Countyboard@arlingtonva.us.

Division of Consumer Counsel of the Office of the Attorney General

The law states that this Counsel can bring action against Advanced Towing in Arlington, VA in civil court under § 46.2-119 for a violation of subsection A and B of § 46.2-118:

A.1. No tow truck driver shall ... Use fraud or deceit in the offering or delivering of towing and recovery services.
B.1. No towing and recovery operator shall ... Use fraud or deceit in the offering or delivering of towing and recovery services.





Timeline

Date/TimeEventNotes/Result
4/19/16 8-8:30PMI parked in the lot of the defunct Alpine Restaurant.The lot was clearly marked as 24 hour no parking zone.
4/19/16 8:35PMArlington Police receives the call that my car is about to get towed in accordance with Arlington County Code § 14.3-6. Notice.This timestamp was confirmed with Arlington Police (703) 558-2222 on 5/12/16.
4/19/16 8:40PMAn email is sent from Jeep indicating the alarm has gone off (either during the initial break-in to the car, or the initial lift of the car).Unfortunately I didn't get the email until later.
4/19/16 8:42PMThe driver takes a picture of the back of the car.This is the time stamp shown in the photograph provided.
4/19/16 8:45PMThe driver takes a picture of damage to the front of the car.This is the time stamp shown in the photograph provided.
4/19/16 8:49PMAnother alarm is triggered from Jeep and another email sent.It's assumed that this is when the actual tow started.
4/19/16 3:00PMI go to pick up the car at the lot.I observe the damage and report it to the tow company
4/19/16 3:05PMThe tow company shows me two pictures on a computer screen, one showing the back of the car and one showing the damage to the front.I left the scene believing that somehow the damage had occurred previously, despite having never seen it before.
4/19/16 3:05PMThe tow company shows me two pictures on a computer screen, one showing the back of the car and one showing the damage to the front.I left the scene believing that somehow the damage had occurred previously, despite having never seen it before.
4/19/16 3:35PM-5:53PMI send a series of emails to AdvancedTowingCompany@gmail.com (documented below) imploring the company to look at the evidence.All emails are ignored.
4/19/16 4:00PMI call the Arlington non-emergency police line to inquire about filing an accident report.I'm told that this is a civil matter, which is odd because if a tow-truck driver rear-ended me at a stop light, I would file a report.
4/19/16 4:02PMI call Advanced Towing at 703-525-0550.The woman is hostile for 8 long minutes, claiming to have not seen the emails, and refusing to look at any evidence provided thus far. She refuses to send me the two pictures she showed me while on-site (a direct violation of Arlington code § 14.3-11.B.), and the call ends with her telling me "I'll see you in court!"
4/20/16 11:13AMI call Advanced Towing again at 703-525-0550.The woman tells me to just put it on my insurance. She claims she hasn't seen the email, has not reviewed the evidence, and "does not need to" review it. She hangs up on me.
4/21/16I spend hours documenting the evidence and creating a video that the company refuses to even look at.The video is posted to Youtube as I attempt to find other victims of this type of practice.
4/21/16 4:29PMI file a police report for fraud on Arlington County's Online Police Reporting System.Like the phone call (which was about filing an accident report), the online report was rejected as the police department considers this a "civil matter". Again, odd.
4/22/16 10:49Found on Arlington's web site, I email towcomplaints@arlingtonva.us and have a brief correspondence with a Sergeant Brokenborough.She receives two pictures from them and forwards them to me. In reviewing the pictures, they are cropped from the originals (a cell phone camera taking a shot of the corner of a computer monitor), and I suspect Advanced Towing deliberately cropped them to conceal the position of car, which may indicate it had been moved in the time between the pictures. She also informs me that because Arlington considers this a "civil matter", the police department has no jurisdiction over the case.
4/22/16 11:00AMI file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.I'm not optimistic of any further action here; the company has an F rating on the BBB and ignores all complaints (45 of them in the past 3 years). The BBB itself calls them out for lying on their web site saying they have "no customer complaints with the BBB".
4/28/16 10:49AMI receive another email from Sgt. Brockenborough informing me she received a response from Advanced Towing.They admit to seeing the evidence (since they also have informed him that they intend to file legal action against me to suppress the evidence I'm sharing on this web site), and implicitly ignore it without any comment other than to claim "the damage he claims appeared to be present prior to towing".
5/2/16 - 5/6/16I take the car to Darcars Collision Center for repair.With rental car, the cost is over $2,000
5/12/16I return to Advanced Towing to get access to the pictures as is my right by Arlington County Code.The lady lies to me and claims she doesn't have the picture on-site (despite me being able to see the computer screen), which would be yet another violation of Arlington's Code to preserve pictures for 1 year.
5/14/16The BBB informs me that the company has ignored my complaint and ask if I have reached a resolution.I answer no.
5/14/16Updated video evidence on this site to include video of Arlington County Code violations.
5/15/16Sent email to towcomplaints@arlingtonva.us requesting the company be fined for non-compliance with Arlington Code.They are very helpful, and put me in touch with the Arlington Magistrate, who will eventually issue a criminal summons to them on 5/25.
5/16/16Called Advanced Towing to inquire about the price of consensual tows.I was quoted $80-$90 for a tow similar to the one I had for my unconsensual tow - a 60% premium that Advanced Towing no doubt cites as "administrative overhead".
5/21/16Updated the site with the open letter to Arlington Board
5/24/16Another correspondence with Sergeant Brokenborough.I am informed she doesn't believe the Arlington Code as it is written has been violated, and she points out text on this site that could be misinterpreted to indicate that the Arlington Police Department has been anything but helpful, friendly, and responsive. I fixed the text and apologize for the ambiguous language that led to the misinterpretation.
5/25/16I file a criminal complaint with the Arlington Magistrate.A criminal summons is issued for 6/15 based on the evidence I have provided that Advanced Towing has violated Arlington County Code § 14.3-11. I'm told this is a largely unprecedented process, and that we're basically all figuring this out as we go along.
6/9/16I call the Commonwealth Attorney's Office at 703-228-4410 to inquire about how to bring video evidence into court since they don't allow electronic devices.I eventually speak to Assistant Attorney Bill Turner, who says that he doesn't see the case on the docket, but it sounds like a civil case. I point out that it's a violation of Arlington Code, which is why the Magistrate filed in criminal court. He gives me his direct line to call back after the case to let him know how it goes. It seems very few people in Arlington have ever stood up for their rights this way by insisting the Arlington Code be followed, but he was very helpful with what he did know.
6/10/16I get a response from Jay Fisette from the Arlington County Board.He is incredibly nice and offers to schedule a time to meet with me in person (scheduled for 7/14). He copies additional County employees who are "engaged in the towing issue" and indicates that the staff are planning to have a public hearing at the next meeting of the Tow Advisory Board - the date is TBD but he mentions we'll be notified.
6/15/16I go to the criminal court, presumably as a witness.Well, I waited in court staring at the wall for 2 hours. Despite the summons being for 9AM, I sat in court until 11AM staring at the wall and wishing I was a lawyer because for some reason *I* can't bring my phone into court, but they can. So I basically just watch all the lawyers check their phones for 2 hours and watch a parade of criminal trials go on. I pull the public prosector aside for a moment and ask about the case; he says that he saw it on the docket but thought that it was just to schedule a court date, but that I should stick around because "it's a weird case" and he's not very sure about it. I give it another hour, and finally give up at 11AM (contrary to the countless hours I've spent on pursuing justice here, I do have a job :) ). I'm later told that a continuance was issued until 7/22, although it's unclear who filed it. Will update more after then.

NBC Washington

This company has been getting away with fraud for way too long. See these results at NBC Washington for a long history of reports on them. Some choice picks:


3/21/2016: Police: Arlington Tow Truck Company Worker Stole From Cars

11/19/2015: Arlington Towing Company Caused $1,200 Damage, Man Says

5/2/2015: Arlington Tow Truck Driver Hooks Car With Children Inside

4/19/2015: Complaints Against Advanced Towing Continue to Pile Up

Email

Following is the email thread I've sent to the company; the woman on the phone (see recording in above video) claims to have never seen it, but I've gotten no reply whatsoever from whoever IS reading the email:


From: "Matt"
Date: April 20, 2016 at 5:53:20 PM EDT
To:
Subject: RE: Jeep bumper picture
OK Final email for today as I continue to research the civil suit.

I want to be clear that I do not yet believe that you personally have committed fraud. But the photographic and video evidence indisputably show that the bumper of the Jeep was ripped off as a consequence of the Jeep being parked over the concrete curb with a piece of rebar sticking out, which had enough clearance on the way in but was ripped off on the way out as a direct result of the back end of the car being lifted up. And the "photographic proof" provided by Advanced Towing was confirmation that the driver tried to cover up this accident.

I caution you personally on the next steps to research the definition of fraud: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/fraud.html. Specifically, the following four criteria must be met:
1) a misrepresentation of a material fact: I believe the video and photographic evidence prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that that bumper was ripped off because of that rebar.
2) by a person or entity who knows or believes it to be false: While the driver has done this, it can't be proven that you have done this yet; I suspect at this moment you just believe what the driver told you and are taking a hostile stance because it's company policy.
3) to a person or entity who justifiably relies on the misrepresentation: I believed you when you showed me the "photographic proof" that the damage was already there - I even said "oh yeah, you guys would have towed from the back anyway because the car was parked against the wall". I justifiably relied on that evidence at the time and left without further confrontation - before finding the documented evidence in the parking lot. (for this reason even if there's some disclaimer that I waived rights to an insurance claim when I left, that disclaimer is void based on the fraud)
4) actual injury or loss resulting from his or her reliance. The actual injury and loss will be properly documented, including the car repairs, the rental car while it's being done, and the lost time on the job for dealing with these unfortunate events.

At this point, my suspicion is that you believe your current claims to be true, but once you question your driver you will find that they are not and that he did indeed try to cover up the accident. But when that happens, as a representative of Advanced Towing (the "entity"), if you continue to deny this claim, I believe a court of law will agree that all four criteria are met to convict the business or individuals of fraud, which carries a substantial legal weight - again quoting from the above web site:
Penalties for fraud offenses may include criminal penalties, civil penalties, or both. Most criminal fraud offenses are considered felony crimes and are punishable by jail, fines, probation, or all of the above. Civil penalties may include restitution (paying the person back) or payment of substantial fines (geared to punish the behavior). The penalties for your offense will depend on the nature, type, scope, and severity of the action and whether it was committed by an individual or an entity, such as a business, corporation or group. - See more at: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/fraud.html#sthash.2ZSKrfxz.dpuf

-Matt



From: Matt
Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2016 5:14 PM
To: AdvancedTowingCompany@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Jeep bumper picture

Here is the video of the spot where your driver did the damage and tried to conceal it with the photo - you can clearly see the rivets ripped out and the plastic all over the rebar and concrete: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57saZn9xv5M&feature=youtu.be. I have saved these and a sample of the plastic from the rebar for evidence.

I have also started research on filing a small claims civil suit, and came across the following links:
* http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Man-Says-Towing-Company-Damaged-Car-When-Towing-It-by-Mistake-351882881.html
* http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Complaints-Against-Advanced-Towing-Continue-to-Pile-Up-300403301.html
* http://www.nbcwashington.com/results/?keywords=advanced+towing&x=0&y=0

I plan to fight for justice on this through whatever means necessary, including legal action and media. I invite you to see the email I just sent NBC Washington:



Again, I cannot iterate enough that I'm hoping for an amicable solution to this situation; I don't think you were lying and really believed what the driver told you, and possibly have taken a hostile stance because you yourself get a lot of fraudulent claims and have to defend the firm and your employees. I don't think it was on purpose, but it was an accident the driver tried to cover up, and I believe I have provided enough evidence that will hold up in the legal system as well as the court of public opinion. If we can make this a simple insurance claim for Advanced Towing, I would be happy to settle with that. If not, I intend to expose the fraudulent behavior proven by the photo you showed me "proving" the damage already existed (for the record, should this email be admissible in court at a future date, you just told me an hour ago that it's Advanced Towing's policy to save pictures for 1 year, so if they are not available at the time of trial or subpoena at very least this is a violation of policy and at most, perjury). If it comes to this, at some point the public will realize that there is no need for a fraudulent firm to exist in Arlington, especially given a repeated string of violations that top all other firms combined:



Please let me know at your soonest if Advanced Towing would like to file this as an insurance matter on its insurance for a simple accident, or if I will have to attempt to pursue other avenues for justice.

Thank you again,
-Matt


From: Matt
Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2016 4:20 PM
To: AdvancedTowingCompany@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Jeep bumper picture

Ma'am,

I'm sure you deal with a lot of people accusing your company of damaging cars, and you may completely trust the driver of the tow truck, but I'm asking you to do the right thing and look at the evidence.

The bumper was clearly torn outwards, which is what pulled it away from the car:



The whole right side is separated:



There are scrapes on the lower right part of the bumper going outwards:


And the biggest evidence: THE PLASTIC FROM MY CAR IS STILL ON THE REBAR (don't bother trying to go clean it up; I've already got a ton of pictures and took samples):


My car alarm went off two times: once at 8:40PM and once at 8:49PM:


So the picture that was taken at 8:45 confirms what happened: the driver started backing away, ripped the bumper off, and put it back to take the picture at 8:45.

I am desperately hoping you will be able to get the truth out of your driver and admit fault to repair the vehicle given all of this evidence, but I am prepared to file a claim if I need to. I am sure there's a possibility that you would rather take your chances by simply continuing to deny this preponderance of evidence and hoping I don't take further action, but I genuinely believe that there's a chance that YOU will be able to get the truth from the driver who caused the damage.

Please let me know at your earliest convenience if you deny any of the above evidence,
-Matt



From: Matt
Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2016 3:35 PM
To: AdvancedTowingCompany@gmail.com
Subject: Jeep bumper picture

Hi,

I was just in there picking up my black 2015 jeep and thought you guys had broken the bumper. You sent me a picture (time stamped 8:45PM last night) - would you mind emailing me that picture and the one of the car in the spot so I can use it for my insurance?

Thanks,
Matt