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On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a long, angry line snakes from the payment windows of the Molina Towing yard on Northwest Seventh Avenue at 21st Street. When the people get their turn at a Plexiglas window, they flip crumpled bills through the slot. They either moan and complain or say nothing, not wanting to give the dead-eyed cashier the pleasure of watching their agony.

"I'm spending money I don't have!" says Joseph Dorismond, a Haitian mechanic forced to pay $115 to get his Dodge Neon out of impound. He's one of at least a half-dozen people called for jury duty who've made the sad pilgrimage to this dingy yard located on a trash-strewn industrial block. They all parked in the same empty lot outside the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building downtown. When they were released from duty, an attendant glibly informed them the lot was not open to the public and that their cars had been removed by Molina tow trucks. "It's definitely one of the worst days of my life," says a 26-year-old woman who identifies herself only as Michelle. She paid $367 to retrieve her Honda Civic, which also had "a mess" of unpaid tickets owed on it. "What do we get paid, $40 for jury duty? And I took a day off of work for this bullshit."

Since 2004, Molina Towing has owned the contract with the county to do its towing. In return for the business, it pays Miami-Dade a fee per each car towed. It's safe to say that providing a pleasant towing experience is not at the top of owner Orlando Molina's priorities. Boldfaced signs hanging by the windows seem designed to befuddle and frustrate: "Cash is cheaper. Credit card is expensive"; "We have no change." Behind barbwire fencing, hundreds of cars of all makes and models, along with dozens of Jet Skis and mopeds dumped on their sides, await unhappy owners. The manager, named Lázaro, sits in a cinderblock office with an enormous dog and tells New Times: "My boss told me we have nothing to say."

Since 1983, Molina Towing has been named as a defendant in a whopping 96 civil lawsuits in Miami-Dade County. The reasons are myriad. One woman, Angela Maria Smith, claimed to have been injured when a tow truck rammed her car in 2004. The next year, an insurance company filed suit to have a wrongly impounded vehicle released. In 2007, a Miami businessman named Eric Glaser claimed in a suit that Molina had destroyed the engine of his black Porsche Carrera while towing it from an illegal spot. The case was settled out of court. Asked about his experience, Glaser says, "When I told them they had destroyed my car, their attitude basically was, 'Screw you.'"

In order to subject your car to the not-so-careful watch of Molina Towing, you must accumulate five unpaid parking tickets, according to Miami-Dade parking enforcement manager Debbie Hess. That's when your tag number will spark a "scofflaw" alert on the hand-held computers enforcement officers carry, prompting a radio call for a tow truck.

Still, it's certainly not impossible to evade towing for years on end while accumulating thousands of dollars in fines. A New Times request for the county's top parking-ticket scofflaws reveals that 59 people owe more than $2,000 each. The worst offender: a 2000 Mercedes-Benz CLK430 that belonged to Advance Auto Rental, a Miami airport-area company. The Benz racked up $16,629 for 250 unpaid citations. While rental companies are ultimately responsible for the fines customers incur, it's often difficult for enforcement officers to locate the vehicles — especially when the business goes bellyup, as Advance did in 2007.

The top seven scofflaws are all rental companies. The person who owes the most for tickets in Miami-Dade County is Cutler Bay native Dorcas Jimenez, who between 2003 and 2007 accumulated 85 tickets, totaling $5,352, on a red Mitsubishi sedan. Complicating matters, in 2008 Jimenez sold the car to a military property manager based in Key West. Selling a car with massive ticket debt is a common ploy that works if the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles fails to transfer the tickets to the former owner. Jimenez's listed apartment is empty, and the new owner did not return messages left on his office phone. None of the top five scofflaws, who list P.O. boxes as addresses or have relocated, could be found by New Times — which is precisely why they've gotten away without paying.

But not all major parking violators are such masters at evasion. Recently nabbed in the wild: a schoolteacher who owed $706.60. But Rolanda Benjamin did not allow her car to be towed without a fight.

The morning of September 22, the 26-year-old Miami-Dade County Public Schools elementary school substitute and mother of two was in the courthouse district near the 1300 block of Northwest 14th Avenue. Benjamin claims she was there to see what she could do about her 17 unpaid citations. When she emerged from a courthouse just after 11 a.m., she heard her car alarm blaring and saw a parking enforcement officer attempting to load her 2001 Chevy Impala onto a Molina truck. The officer, named Sham Jaglal, was having trouble: Her security system had locked the vehicle's wheels, making it nearly impossible to tow without keys.

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24 comments
robthom
robthom

Well, wonderful Haitian cabbie Pierre Jean-Charles the fulltime student and father of five got here the same way the criminals did.

Can we send them all back?

I want to go to school and drive a cab, and I was born here.

Kennoble
Kennoble

Robbed in Collins. Get your act together Miami. English tourist who will not return.

hunter
hunter

buch of no good idiots down there in opa-locka-scum of the streets-pooers with no scoopers=dragging ass and smelling like it-lived there most of my life and had my share of busting heads and thats a fact--loved it -lived for it-it replaced love in miami

Darren Chaker
Darren Chaker

I never thought parking was that bad. Under no means should these people be assaulted. Darren Chaker

D
D

Carry a gun.

ammy
ammy

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Ice
Ice

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Anonymous
Anonymous

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elena
elena

This mafia exist thanks to the authorities,and those exist thanks to US.So is US who have to do something about it.We have to be more responsible for whom we vote and constantly watch what are they doing with the power WE gave to them.About the homeless,Prince Dracul did the right thing,he prepared a party and invite all of them locked the gate and torched the whole place no more homeless.

Rothgar
Rothgar

The MPA IS the mafia. Businesses that shell out money to the MPA for creating more parking spaces that have never been built need to file a class action lawsuit and make the MPA prove that the funds they've collected have in fact gone to create more parking spaces. If they can't prove it, then they need to return the money. Additionally, Coconut Grove politicians need to be held accountable; if they don't eliminate the law that allows the MPA to pocket money for Grove businesses, then they should be thrown out of office.

suckhole
suckhole

This is very interesting, but could it be anymore verbose? Who fucking wrote this? Charles Dickens being paid by the word? I really want to read this, but I just can't spend 4890348903908 hours at work reading infinite unnecessary words.

Wolf Lorber
Wolf Lorber

Great article, muxh needed. Of course, people who do not have to work during the week have no need to "weekend."These people go on the town during the week, thereby avoiding crowds and parking problems. They are rich or very rich, or retirees (whether rich or not). They are also the bread-and-butter of many restaurants and other retail establishments.

PS: How about a series on "internships" at prestigious magazines, non-profits and institutions? Only children of wealthy families can afford to take these no pay/low paypositions which often lead to permanent ones. Examples are: National Geographic Society; Smithsonian Institution; The Nature Conservancy; New York Public Library; etc.

Henry
Henry

I recently had my car stolen for my home in Kendell and the thief took my good tags and put them on a different car. He then proceeded to accrue all kinds of parking violations. And the bills came to me. I had to fill out 3 different appeals to the county because they just seemed to be trying to force me to pay even-though I had included copies of the police report. Then they passed the overdue fines on to a collection agency that was based out of New York. How come they can find out if a person has unpaid parking tickets but can not determine if a vehicle is stolen or not? I would have liked too have a car thief off the streets.

Gus Garcia-Roberts
Gus Garcia-Roberts

Dave: Maybe I got too whimsical there. Thanks for grounding me. I drive a Toyota Corolla, which does have carburetor dust.

Rolanda: It wasn't my intent to embarrass you. The mugshot is public record, as is the police report. I allowed you to tell your side of the story and was careful to make it clear that you were not convicted. If the county withholds working opportunities due to this article you should definitely let us know. You're innocent until proven guilty.

Rolanda Benjamin
Rolanda Benjamin

I feel as though the Miami New Times deliberately made a fool of me by posting my picture and personal information related to job information as well as my arrest photo. I understand that this is a public newspaper which obtains information from public records but when I spoke with the writer Gus it made it seem as though he was just writing a article which was related to my case. This is UNFAIR and if i were going to be used in a newspaper I should have signed something stating that it was ok for them to do so.

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward

Regarding the parking in the Grove, you hit the nail on the head. I've lived in Miami for 8 years, and love all of outdoor "mall" type of places like Bayside, Lincoln Road, etc.. however I have been to the Grove probably 5 or fewer times simply because parking is -always- a hassle and honestly, if I'm going out for fun, who wants to worry about parking? It's just easier to hit up Aventura or Miami Beach.

And the part regarding businesses paying upwards of $5000 per month for parking, what a shame considering those costs are only translated to the customers via higher prices. Just hurts Miami residents all-around.

dave
dave

Lamborghini's haven't had carburetors for years. And if they did, you wouldn't smell their dust since they neither produce dust, nor are they anywhere within olfactory detection range, especially considering the exhaust gases coming out of the lambo's tailpipes.... Otherwise great article, just sayin...

KPR
KPR

Quotes the article: " In 2008, according to the agency's annual report, it made $87.8 million in revenue, for a whopping net profit of $27.8 million, $2 million more than in 2007 and $3 million more than in 2006. "

Terrible. Now like any respectable city, county, state, or federal governmental agency in America, this bunch of public servants will have to figure out a way to never again make any sort of profit, and instead finish the fiscal year with a loss.

That way they can grow and prosper and hire lobbyists to argue for general fund cash.

John Albert Negron
John Albert Negron

As a fellow media professional and a 20 year Miami resident of hispanic decent, I resent that you have to bring national identities to any of the people in this article which only adds to the pejorative stigmas of our community.

cb
cb

They really need to fix the parking problems asap. I can't visit my gf downtown without having to pay $15 for a valet, or $10 to the city and risk getting towed when they put up 'no parking' signs overnight.

And arrest the idiots who will 'make sure nothing happens to your car'...

Grrrant
Grrrant

Parking, along with all the other ways the city and property owners have found to tax everyone, is exactly the reason people like myself, and others, are either leaving Miami or not going out to spend their money... after all the inflation it's just not WORTH IT any more. No wonder Miami has no clearly definable middle class.... these would be people with job skills and education, but no desire to put up with the nickle and dime BS of the nightlife and entertainment districts here in Miami's metro area.

 
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