Beware of South Beach Tow Companies

Beware of South Beach Tow Companies
Illustration by Peter O'Toole

The man's eyes are wide with fury as he pounds the hood of the Tremont Towing truck that's hauling his gun-metal Lexus from the plaza at 15th Street and Alton Road in South Beach. The truck stops, and driver Robert Ashenoff Jr. slowly climbs out. He dwarfs the angry Lexus owner, a slim man with dreadlocks, by at least six inches and 80 pounds.

"This is a mistake, man," the guy with dreadlocks says.

"I'm a repo man, and I don't make mistakes, man," Ashenoff replies. "You know your car is getting repoed."

Without another word, the Lexus owner plants a foot on the truck's front grill and does a backflip, followed by a couple of cartwheels and another backflip. Ashenoff tries to back away, but the man throws a couple of ninja roundhouse kicks that slam him right in the face. Ashenoff falls to the ground. "Do you feel like a puta?" the dreadlocked man spits.

But he doesn't notice Ashenoff's passenger, a husky woman named Bernice. She sneaks up behind him with a tire iron, then lays him out with a vicious blow to the head. Then she lifts Ashenoff off the ground. "I don't do karate," she huffs. "I do karazy. I'll fuck a bitch up."

The confrontation is absurd, hilarious, and totally unbelievable. It's also par for the course for South Beach Tow, a faux reality show that draws thousands of viewers every Wednesday night on truTV. For three seasons, cable audiences have been eating up the badly staged reenactments of day-to-day business at Tre­mont, one of the two companies that have monopolized towing on South Beach for decades.

But for the thousands of residents and tourists whose rides are actually hooked every month by Tremont and its competitor, Beach Towing, the truth is far worse than Hollywood's scripted version. The fact is, towing on Miami Beach is an unparalleled city-sanctioned racket even in a town of slimy scams. It's a decades-long, politically sanctioned operation to hold people's cars for ransom for hundreds of dollars. In the first six months of 2013, both companies reported $1.2 million in revenues just from cars towed off public property. That's close to 5,000 cars towed between January and June.

New Times has pored through a year's worth of complaints filed with the Miami Beach Parking Department, scoured 81 police incident reports for their tow yards, and checked out a half-dozen open lawsuits filed against Tremont and Beach. The records show how both firms reap thousands in revenue by tricking drivers — and suggest why city officials let them get away with it.

Many of the towing tactics are so outrageous, in fact, that the brawls on South Beach Tow pale compared to the real incidents involving irate car owners. They may not use karate, but car owners routinely scale walls, try to run over tow truck drivers, and attack employees to get back their rides, all while eating up valuable police time with hundreds of 911 calls.

Rafael Andrade, a Miami Beach attorney representing Beach and Tremont, says his clients would not comment on specific allegations reported in this story. "The towing companies exercise caution and diligence before a vehicle is removed and spend considerable resources to investigate all claims and allegations against them," Andrade says. "Most are determined to be without support. When a mistake is made, it is corrected."

Andrade adds: "Bottom line, vehicles are towed due to criminal or civil violations of the law, and the towing industry simply provides a necessary, albeit at times unpopular, public service to the city and private businesses within the city."

"Everybody on Miami Beach knows the horror stories," says James Barak, whose minivan was snatched from his own driveway in March. "Beach Towing and Tremont have a monopoly."

Based on our research, New Times has come up with the biggest complaints about Beach Towing and Tremont. Beware — or end up in the tow lot yourself.


Lot Watchers

Under Florida law, tow companies cannot snatch a car willy-nilly. Instead, whoever owns or rents the property where a vehicle is illegally parked must call to order a tow. Yet Beach and Tremont routinely flaunt this pesky regulation by deploying lot watchers, usually homeless people, to call their dispatchers on easy prey, according to several victims. This notorious practice is so prevalent on Alton Road that businesses have resorted to posting signs warning their customers: "Beware the tow trucks."

Miami Beach lifestyle blogger Rachel Mestre experienced the tactic earlier this year. On January 10, she parked her Ford SUV in front of the 7-Eleven on 14th Street and Alton Road. Mestre went inside the Liquor Store, which is separated from 7-Eleven by a shared wall, then spent five minutes looking over the wine selection before settling on a Pinot Grigio. The 41-year-old writer then paid the cashier, walked out, and looked around in confusion. Her SUV was gone.

The cashier pointed to a lanky man in a white T-shirt and red basketball shorts sprinting across the street. "He loiters in the parking lot, contacting the tow truck drivers to come get their next victim," Mestre claims. "When I called Tre­mont, a supervisor told me he didn't care if I had receipts from the Liquor Store. I had to pay $211 to get my car back."

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58 comments
Citizen4Justice
Citizen4Justice

What is going on here is a systematic fraud being perpetuated against the citizens of Dade County.  Great Article. We need to hold our representatives accountable for allowing this to continue. Open up the process; REGULATE the process; Until that time, Justice is being stomped on by the people charged with upholding it.

tmmmm
tmmmm

This is why I am a huge fan of Stand your Ground Law. If I saw someone stealing my car(as do these companies). I would stand my ground and shoot to kill. A few of their hired thugs getting picked off...they'd eventually change their tune.

trouble7237
trouble7237

This article is on point.  I don't live in the Beach but I owned a unit there once that I was repairing.  I parked at my assigned spot and walked into the unit for 10 minutes and my car was towed.  I didn't have the parking decal, but it was my assigned spot so obviously no one called to complain (as the law requires) but the tow truck somehow found my car in an alley in 10 minutes.  I called the police, condo management called Tremont and at the end I just had to pay for the tow.  Totally unfair.  

These people are the enforcement arm of a parking mafia in the Beach that make it possible, and for the public necessary, to dish out $30 for simply parking a car.

monicaacevedo
monicaacevedo

Make Changes to Tow Permit

1) Permitee must allow payment by CREDIT CARD.
3) Eliminate $30 after hour fee. Does not exist in contract.
4) Eliminate $30 Administration. Unjustly added, only legit if titled searched
5) Eliminate $30 Labor. Labor already included in standard tow rate (page 28-29) .
6) Audit the Permitees annually to investigate customer charges. Only 1 audit in 20 yrs
7) Create Miami Beach resident discount, flat $50 tow fee.
8) Stop releasing cars at no charge to city of Miami Beach employees.
9) Simplify fee schedule, state $ fee for “Passenger Vehicle” not “vehicle class types A, B, and C”. No definition

fjg2000
fjg2000

The only way to end this corruption that is totally out of control is to get rid of the greedy crooked politicians and bureaucrats in Miami Beach. They have created 2 monsters, Tremont and Beach Towing and it is VERY clear they are protecting and enriching these goons so they can benefit from it. It's all about the money for them. 

The residents must first get rid of the ringleader, Commissioner Jonah Wolfson who is obviously the main beneficiary along with his wife. Then we must force the other politicians to get rid of the Parking Director as he has obviously come under the "influence" of the 2 towing companies. The FDLE and state attorney's office must also investigate but they will not do so unless there is a substantial public outcry and intense pressure.  

Enough is enough. We must put an end to this travesty once and for all. If not, the blatant abuses will continue and only get worse over time.    

justopinion
justopinion

My car was towed by Tremont yet I parked in the parking lot with attendant on Washington Ave across from Story night club.  The attendant assured it was good yet when I came out within hour from the club without drink my car was towed away.  I believe there is scam set up with the parking space.  I lost alot of money because of this. I am surprised that none of the better business bureau or goverment stepped into this.

monicaacevedo
monicaacevedo

When I called for a tow because my car broke down, the fee was only $65. Why then are unsanctioned tows $250?

Allso, why, is request for a tow fee increase approved 5 out of 5 times by Parking Dept staff and the Parking and Transportation Committee (which is made up of 7 volunteer residents and chaired by Commissioner Weithorns husband)

jdomar
jdomar topcommenter

Office of the Attorney General , Div. of Economic Crimes needs to investigate this corruption along with FDLE. Please contact them. If corruption is indeed entrenched, it makes no sense in dealing with local officials or mayor candidates for MB, who are battling at the local level, when this kind of monetary tow company contribution is having an undue influence on seemingly all of them, thus leaving the local residents to get hosed. I would consider this a major social problem, on par with the price gouging that happens during hurricanes, yet for some reason the Attorney General chooses to prosecute those violations to the fullest yet ignore these. Perhaps these issues have not been properly brought up to higher authorities at the state level. I would encourage that to be done and thank New Times for this article, in exposing a blatant scam that has been brazenly going on in plain sight, harmful to the general public and a completely illegal shell game  that affects thousands of law abiding people and certainly erodes public confidence in elected officials and even the campaign process.

 The issue at stake is that If the business owner does not call for the tow, then the individual should be left alone, period.  Who cares if these companies are a "necessary evil"? We all know that, but they need to obey the law. The opposite is happening and we should NOT stand for it in any way. As someone moving to Miami Beach in a month, I want to see something done about this and an investigation by the AG's office should be demanded by numerous people to get the ball rolling.! I'm not sure I understand these people talking about it being a necessary fact of life that people get towed, so oh well. We all know that. The issue here that that the business owner must call for the tow PER THE TOWING STATUTE, otherwise its an illegal tow. What we have here is a situation where homeless people are being used as spotters to initiate the tow. Completely illegal, so to the comments below, you are missing the issue. These two tow companies should be investigated by higher (read: non-local) authorities and compliance with the law must be mandated to halt these illegal practices.

 Florida Statute 713.78 reads"(2) Whenever a person regularly engaged in the business of transporting vehicles or vessels by wrecker, tow truck, or car carrier recovers, removes, or stores a vehicle or vessel upon instructions from:(a) The owner thereof;(b) The owner or lessor, or a person authorized by the owner or lessor, of property on which such vehicle or vessel is wrongfully parked, and the removal is done in compliance with s. 715.07; or(c) Any law enforcement agency,"  So the owner or person authorized by owner must call. Using homeless people not authorized by owners violates people's right to due process.

wholefoods
wholefoods

As much as I hate to take their side, I have lived here for four years and been towed once. I parked in the aforementioned 7-11 lot and ate at Lime. I deserved to be towed, and I paid for it. Most of these anecdotes ignore the fact that towing is essential to the maintenance of order, and I guarantee you that most of these sob stories are BS. You are parking on private property, and at that point you forfeit your right to redress. If these complaints were stemming from incidents that occur in lots owned by the City of Miami Beach, that would be one thing. But they arent. Imagine you are a small business owner. You sign a lease on a property, paying more per square foot than you would for the property next door. You do so because your property has designated parking. But you find that when you open for business, the parking that you have paid for is constantly invaded by people that are going to the business next door. They are trespassing, and taking money out of your pocket. The high fees for towing is supposed to act as a deterrent to theft and trespassing.

James G. Camp
James G. Camp

Just the other day in Broward, a tow truck driver got shot. According to that story, 9 cars at the same apartment complex were to be towed ?

Ben Wonfitness C
Ben Wonfitness C

miami beach is the dirties!!! the cops are corrupt!! everything is corrupt in good ol Miami Beach!!!!!!

Jason Walters
Jason Walters

This si the primary reason i avoid Miami Beach. They can keep it.

hereinmiami
hereinmiami

I think it would be a mistake to open it up to companies outside the beach, because then people will face incredible difficulties getting their cars back; the only positive things about the current situation are that the lots are within reasonable walking distance, and since there are only two, you won't spend huge amounts of time figuring out where the hell your car was towed to, which happened to me in NYC and was truly a nightmare. I also have no doubt the new companies would be just as unethical. The key issue is regulating them: if towing a car from a private lot is illegal without a call from the business that owns the lot, then these companies are regularly breaking the law, outright. I know Miami politicians are about nothing but connections and kick-backs, but I'm really disappointed in Gongora, I thought he had some integrity. There is absolutely no good reason for the fees to be so high, and the cost to the city in the goodwill of visitors makes it  stupid as well as unfair.

Ari Kane
Ari Kane

Sickening. Vote for Steve Berke as mayor. He will stop these greedy assholes.

Greg Ramirez
Greg Ramirez

thats y we dont go to to miami beach anymore fortlauderdale is the place nnow

Alessandra Cata
Alessandra Cata

Yep. The mia bch officers tickets have already there preffered tow truck co. Printed right on them.

Alex Howard
Alex Howard

Just read the article in it's entirety, this right here ladies and gentlemen is true journalism.

Andrea Domergue
Andrea Domergue

It looks like I am not the only one who avoids the beach, this can not be good for business.

Dirk DeSouza
Dirk DeSouza

They charge a $25 fee for something called "Tie Down". The translation of that is they take your seatbelt and loop it through your steering wheel. That 4.2 second process is $25. If they tow your car after 8pm, that's $30, called an After Hours fee (even though they work 24 hours a day). If you pick your car up in the morning, that's another $30 for "storage".

Oscar Sosa
Oscar Sosa

South beach continues to make itself unbearable to go to.

mitch107
mitch107

When the residents of the City of Miami Beach have had enough of this, they can and will petition the city council to change the rules governing towing. 

Or, they will vote them out and vote in members of the council who will change the rules.

gmfort13
gmfort13

Why aren't the Feds looking into this?  There's gotta be something fishy going on in City Hall.  One of the reasons me and my tax dollars left the beach.

insider
insider

Jimmy Morales thinks that we are dumb or he is the dumb... almost, and I repeat  a l m o s t  every department director in this corrupt city has been changed except the people that handle the gold mine called parking department, you can check internal audits reports (internal audit is a little annoying clown in the city, a paper tiger, an sad dwarf that keep crying and crying, there are no controls, there is no accountability and nobody pays attention to that little thing).parking permits: no control and of course no accountability; concession agreement valet services for the convention center, a joke, the valet company does whatever they want whenever they want and again, no control, no accountability and perhaps the same company will have the concession for three more years(not to mention the possible millionaire concession agreement for the big ass new convention center) ; concession agreement for the city owned garages, the poor little company always lose money they never have to give a penny to the city.

A few years ago an assistant city manager used to oversee parking but when jorgito gonzalez went down the opportunity to take over parking and all its monies was taken, there is an iron circle that nobody can penetrate, if you think that I am bullshitting check facts: why the former parking assistant director was forced to retirement? it is something related to a fishy contract for security cameras in the city garages, a decent law enforcement agency(not MBPD please!) could have a nice chat with this guy (former parking AD) and have him to sing the manicero.

Now the new parking assistant director is the same person that handle parking  finances,  yes, believe it or not, there is no segregation of duties at all, all the parking financial operations must be controlled for the iron circle, btw this person has been handling parking money for long, long time.  Do you think that the CFO of corrupt city does not know that there is a conflict of interests in there???  and who do you think conducted the interviews for that position?  the CFO of corrupt city and again, that sensitive position must stay inside the iron circle, who could be best that her own person inside parking??  please!!!  it is plain and simple an enormous red flag that may be the FBI will see.  and the tiny and ugly clown called internal audit can see no evil.

After the channel 10 report about corrupt city parking department cancelling tickets  for friends, connected people and others, the iron circle round the wagons and punished all the city employees, now they have to inform HR if they receive a parking ticket, but there was no consequences for the person that has the power and authority to cancel the parking tickets. the $uper parking director! not to mention that the channel 10 journalist spent 4 weeks trying to get an interview.

my grandma used to say that in Latin America when things are real bad people say "we need the Americans to bring some order"  I told her, grandma: here in corrupt city we need the Americans too

FBI, IRS, DEA, HS, ATF, NSA, ICE SOME BODY PLEASE HELP!!!

internetinternet
internetinternet

CITY OF MIAMI BEACH
INTERNAL AUDIT PROCEDURES
FOR THE PERIOD JANUARY 1, 2012 TO MAY 3, 2012

C. NUISANCE ISSUES/COMPLAINTS
1. Marcum to obtain a list of any complaints received by the City’s Chief of Police or the
City’s Parking Director. Marcum will select 10 complaints and verify that a written
disposition of the complaint was forwarded to the Permittee upon completion of the
investigation.
Marcum could not obtain a list of complaints received by the City but did inquire of
Tremont as to their policies on recording/addressing complaints. Per Manny Diaz Jr.,
Operating Partner at Tremont, complaints are handled on a case by case basis. There
is no formal log of documentation with regard to all complaints received by the tow
company. They believe that it is impractical to document every issue due to the nature
of the business and the mass amount of complaints received on daily basis. Manny
Diaz believes that the majority do not have merit.

nyhk69
nyhk69

So can people get an attorney and make a class acction law suit...? Maybe somebody do something...

bob123
bob123

"To not enforce illegal parking in these areas would be unfair and adversely affect our residents' quality of life."

umm, how about a simple ticket?

jimjam
jimjam

Thank you New times for providing with this excellent investigative piece.  

scamvictim
scamvictim

Can someone go undercover and create a bullet proof documentary...then play it at every city commission meeting from now till eternity.

Kenn Gambe
Kenn Gambe

finally an article on this city wide scam

RachelUnleashed
RachelUnleashed

Great article! Thanks for the continued tenacity with this major Miami Beach issue! :-)

eraxach
eraxach

Thank you Mr. Alvarado for this great article and for let us know the corruption of  politicians in our City


GODisGREAT
GODisGREAT

We can all sit here and gripe and think of ways to fix it, but these guys, Galbut, Menin, Mirmelli, etc. are the current Mafia in Miami so get used to it. We live in a corrupt city.

Diana Andrew-Lozano
Diana Andrew-Lozano

What can we do about this!!! Seriously.. I want to know! Gross! I sometime wish vigilante group focused on destroying these a holes.

Alex Pappas
Alex Pappas

i know a couple spots in downtown tow trucks sit parked illegally waiting to catch you parked illegally...its a joke

monicaacevedo
monicaacevedo

@wholefoods You are wrong. The purpose of towing is to open up a parking spot. The purpose is NOT to punish, not to gouge, not to play judge and jury.

Also, article describes residents being illegally towed from their own condo parking spots.

 
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