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."

Pat Kinsella
Pat Kinsella
Pat Kinsella

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."

Mestre isn't alone. Six months later, Davie-based air conditioner and refrigerator repairman Jay Martin's white work van was towed from the lot at 1504 Alton Road. On June 5, Martin showed up at the Smoothie King there to fix the freezer. A few hours later, Martin told the manager he was going down the street to set up his equipment to fix an AC unit at another business. "When he returned, the van had been taken away by Beach Towing," says Jonathan Kantor, his attorney. "He had to pay $311 to get it back. Jay's got a business to run. He didn't have time to argue or fight with anybody."

Three weeks later, Martin made time to go after Beach Towing in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, claiming the company and the property owner, BB Plaza Ltd., conspired "in a scheme to collect money by towing lawfully parked vehicles."

BB Plaza's attorney, Allan Reiss, told Kantor in an email July 16 that Martin and Smoothie King were to blame. "The premises are clearly marked with multiple signs including those attached stating 'Customer Parking While in Stores Only,'" Reiss wrote. "Accordingly, the owner's representative called Beach Towing and the illegally parked vehicle was towed."

But Kantor and Martin dispute Reiss' assertion. "Beach Towing has an agent beyond the control of BB Plaza who unlawfully called for the tow," Kantor claims. "Jay is really pissed off. He can't take getting screwed over like this."

(Officials for Beach and Tremont declined comment for this article. Andrade, a lobbyist who represents both companies, also did not respond to a list of questions emailed to him.)


Private Lots Disguised as City Lots

A parking lot on 17th Street and Lenox Avenue looks exactly like scores of other, city-run lots nearby. There's a big "Public Parking" sign and an electronic meter, just like all the city devices. Except this lot is operated by Andrew Mirmelli, a private-parking mini-mogul who's hired Tremont Towing to haul away the scores of cars belonging to people who walk across the street to pay a city meter instead of his machine.

Local journalist Kris Conesa (a former New Times staffer) learned that lesson the hard way in late March. Conesa parked his black Mercedes-Benz CLK 350 in Mirmelli's lot on a Saturday during Miami Music Week and, like many others, thought he was in a city lot. He bought a ticket at a meter across the street and stuck it on his dashboard. When he returned to find his car gone, he had to shell out $241 to get it back.

Miami resident Susana Santoro says the same thing happened to her on April 13. "I noticed a huge 'Self Parking — Open to the Public' sign," Santoro groused in a complaint to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower. "Well it turns out the joke was on me and everyone else that dares park there."

She claims other signs Mirmelli has posted warning people they may get towed are written with letters too small to read from a car. "This sign should be in large caps, not the one that says it is open to the public," she says. "The parking management as well as Tremont Towing are misleading, deceiving, and defrauding people."

That Lenox lot isn't the only Mirmelli property to generate complaints. A month after Santoro's ordeal, on May 11, Adam Mendizabal parked in a Mirmelli lot at 1689 West Ave. Mendizabal says the machine would allow him to purchase only up to one hour even though he intended to stay longer. "I assumed that the lot did not charge after 10 p.m.," Mendizabal says in a complaint. "I returned at 11:30 p.m. to find my car towed. I went to Tremont and they informed me it would cost $241... which is an insane amount."

He called Mirmelli, whose cell number is listed on the lot's signs, to explain that the meter had malfunctioned. "He said his machine was working fine and that I made a mistake," Mendizabal recalls. "This is most likely by design to catch unsuspecting tourists like myself."

There's good reason to believe that Mirmelli and Tremont may have a mutually beneficial relationship. The lot owner was the company's treasurer from December 8, 2011, to March 8, 2012. That same day, his mother, Dierdre Mirmelli, incorporated Tremont Towing Investment LLC, an entity that has invested in a new tow yard. Dierdre Mirmelli and Tremont are even represented by the same SoBe lawyer, Mark Alhadeff.

But Mirmelli denies that he's profiting from Tremont's tows. "I know a lot of people are pissed off," he told New Times in May. "But I'm not in the business of making a buck from towing cars... People simply don't read the signs I've put up."

He says his mother, a 65-year-old retired schoolteacher, invested only in a development project at 1747 Bay Road that would include a new Tremont lot. "She has no involvement in the day-to-day operations of Tremont," Mirmelli says.

He also refutes the claim that he purposely bought the same meter used by the city so it would confuse parkers, noting that he purchased his in 2011, a year before the Miami Beach Parking Department began using the same machine, and calling it "a terrible coincidence."

Coincidence or not, the city took notice after a slew of irate calls and forced Mirmelli to install new signs at his Lenox lot. "We had a rash of folks coming in [to complain]," Miami Beach Parking Director Saul Frances says. But Frances claims there's not much else he can do. "It's a free-enterprise issue," he says.


Tow Truck Drivers Accused of Stealing Cars

Sometimes, drivers for Beach and Tre­mont hook cars that are never returned to their owners. Drivers for both companies have been accused of sneaking into condo buildings, trolling for cars with out-of-town owners, and then rolling off with the wheels.

Consider the case of Fu Tian, a Los Angeles businessman who sued Beach Towing in June for allegedly jacking his 2006 Mercedes GL 450 from the Grand Condominium.

Tian says that on September 30, 2011, surveillance video captured a heavyset African-American man behind the wheel of a Tremont truck entering Grand's garage around a quarter to one in the morning. A hefty Hispanic male was in the passenger seat. A few minutes later, the cameras caught the same truck exiting the garage towing a 1998 blue Porsche Carrera 911, according to a City of Miami Police report.

Then, at 1:07 a.m., the Tremont truck returned and took away a 1998 white BMW Z3. An hour later, the truck came back once more, hitching Tian's burgundy Benz. It wasn't until 14 days later that the condominium's security manager realized the truck had removed all three luxury rides without authorization.

Miami detectives confirmed that no one from the condo had called Tremont and that the driver indeed worked for Tremont. A manager told the cops that the driver, whose name is not listed in the documents, had been flagged down by the Hispanic male, who claimed to be a repo man seeking help to "secure the vehicles."

To date, no one has been arrested, and the cars have not been recovered. Tian has sued the Grand Condominium and its valet parking contractor for negligence, as well as Tremont for negligent hiring and retention.

It's not the first time either tow company has been sued over similar allegations.

In 2002, Agustus Sanchez took Tremont to court over claims the company auctioned his Harley-Davidson motorcycle while he was trying to retrieve it. Though Sanchez spoke directly with Tremont's then-owner, Edwin "Tony" Gonzalez, about paying the required impound and storage fees, the bike was sold at public auction December 11, 2001, for about $20,000. Tremont settled with Sanchez in 2005 for $65,000, the Harley's estimated value.

A year later, part-time Miami Beach resident Tal Priel sued Beach Towing for civil theft of his vintage 1975 gold two-door Buick LeSabre from his rented spot inside the parking garage at 555 Washington Ave. When he returned after a seven-month stint in New York City, Priel learned that Beach had towed his car and sold it to then-employee Alberto Castellanos for $1,481.72. Priel sued, claiming Beach intentionally sent certified letters to the wrong address so it could put a lien on the Buick to sell it. At the time, Priel told New Times, "I was devastated." (Beach later settled for an undisclosed amount.)

Tian's lawyer, Andreas Kelly, expects a similar outcome in his case. "A tow truck company that employs dishonest people can do a lot of damage," Kelly says. "I have never seen a tow truck company that does something this blatant."

Through their lobbyist, Andrade, Beach and Tremont officials declined to comment on the lawsuits.


Wasting Miami Beach Police Time

Miami Beach officers must know the Beach and Tremont tow yards like their own backyards, because they probably spend more time dealing with outraged car owners and petty crime there than they do grilling on their patios.

In July, blogger Bill Cooke reported on his Random Pixels site that police fielded 768 calls from Beach and Tremont's tow yards in the previous year. "Many of the calls are for disturbances that cover everything from a customer arguing loudly to a fistfight," Cooke says. "In those cases, police dispatchers are required to dispatch two units for officer safety. Multiply that by 768 times, year in and year out, and you start to see the tremendous drain on resources these two companies create annually."

And who pays for it? "The taxpayer," Cooke notes. "Definitely not the towing companies."

New Times analyzed 81 incident reports filed between June 2012 and June of this year. The documents show that Beach and Tremont call the cops for everything from petty vandalism to people taking off in their cars without paying.

For instance, Tremont rang the boys in blue on June 16, 2012, when a man named Ramzi Zaghloug sneaked through the iron gate into their yard around 5:30 p.m. Tremont employee Victor Juarbe watched the bald, 34-year-old Jordan native get into his red 2012 BMW 328i and drive off the lot. Instantly, Juarbe called the MBPD, reporting Zaghloug owed a $210 tow fee. The cops spotted him entering a condo on Ocean Drive. When an officer approached, Zaghloug said, "They towed my car wrong, and I went and got it back." The cop took him back to Tremont, where Zaghloug was charged with felony theft — of his own car.

Two months later, Beach Towing manager Jorge Rodriguez called police to report 32-year-old North Miami Beach resident Justin Michael Weaver after cameras caught him forcing open the yard's gate, getting into his green 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier, and driving off. Weaver owed $1,163 in parking fines and towing charges. Miami Beach cops started a fruitless search.

On October 22, Rodriguez again called the cops. This time, he snitched on 24-year-old Sandra Jean Louis, who had entered his yard and sped away in her 2000 maroon Chevrolet Cavalier despite $800 in parking and towing fines. The responding officer called a detective from the property-crimes unit, but no one responded. Obviously, they had bigger fish to fry.

In March and April, Tremont employees twice called police to report people allegedly "keying" cars belonging to tow company staffers. One of the complainers was South Beach Tow star Ashenoff, who accused 26-year-old Palm Beach resident Shawnese Debra Ware of scratching his 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup.

"The victim believes that a black female [Ware]... might have committed the offense," the April 3 incident report states. "She was the last person seen around the damaged Dodge."

As usual, no arrests have been made in that caper.


Staking Out Private Parking Lots

If you're pulling into a South Beach lot and you spot a tow truck idling in a nearby alley or slowly circling the block, beware. Tow companies look for victims who walk across the street or to a business next door. Instead of waiting for their homeless lot watchers to call in a tow, the trucks sometimes poach poorly labeled spots themselves.

During Art Basel week last year, Daniel Baumgard, chief executive of Coral Gables-based Investment Management Associates Inc., bought a few items at the Walgreens on 67th Street and Collins Avenue. He walked across the street to get a cup of coffee.

When he returned to the Walgreens lot half an hour later, his Mercedes-Benz CL550 was gone. Baumgard quickly noticed that Beach Towing had two people in the lot. "One person was in the lot and the other on the corner," Baumgard recalled in a December 10 email to city commissioners. "If someone went across the street, they radioed ahead, and the tow truck came."

Baumgard saw three tow trucks "going 'round and 'round" towing cars from the Walgreens lot. "I personally watched three cars being towed in five minutes," he wrote. "This was a well-greased operation."

Baumgard paid $287. In his email to city leaders, he vowed never to spend another dime in Miami Beach. "You spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to attract people from all over the world... yet you ruin their experience by allowing a bunch of thugs to tow cars on a whim," Baumgard wrote.

City Commissioner Jerry Libbin demanded City Manager Kathy Brooks investigate, writing, "This is outrageous!" Yet the parking department sided with Beach Towing.

A month later, Beach Towing found another mark. Ruben Dario Vazquez navigated his 2008 Scion into the empty lot at 6774 Collins Ave. on a Wednesday night. The 56-year-old AT&T technician was taking his two adult sons for dinner at Norman's Tavern. As he pulled into the lot, Vazquez spotted a Beach Towing truck idling behind a dumpster. He paid it no mind as he parked in front of a vacant pizza joint. "Everything was closed except Norman's," he says.

While they ate, Beach Towing took the Scion. Vazquez later paid $311 to get it back. "I told them, 'You hide behind a dumpster, waiting to stick your hands in people's pockets and steal their money,'" Vazquez says. He later contacted City Hall, to no avail. The parking department told him his only option was to take Beach to small claims court. So he did, filing a complaint in February.

When he learned that the law requires a property owner to call the tow company, he leapt. "I knew for a fact no one called Beach Towing to come get my car," Vazquez says. "Norman's was the only place open. Their employees certainly didn't call."

In court, a Beach manager could not provide the name of the person who called, Vazquez claims. On April 2, the mediator ordered Beach to pay Vazquez $250.

"Everyone in Miami Beach is in on the scam, from the politicians to the bureaucrats to the property owners," Vazquez says. "Everyone makes a bundle off towing."


Taking Advantage of Residents' Mishaps

Miami Beach residents already jump through Cirque du Soleil-worthy hoops to get parking passes and decals to ensure their rides aren't jacked by Beach or Tremont. But the companies still use loopholes to swipe residents' vehicles.

Consider what happened to James Barak when he parked his Ford Windstar in front of his house at 4174 Alton Road, blocking his own driveway in the process. The disabled 43-year-old, who owns a used-car dealership, was unloading groceries from his minivan, which is specially equipped with railings for handicapped access. Barak also had his handicapped placard hanging from the mirror. "I put everything in the house," he recalls. "I come out a couple of minutes later and my Windstar is gone."

Barak immediately knew he had been towed. "They claim they got a call from my neighbor," Barak says of Beach Towing. "Total BS. They pay kids on bicycles 50 bucks to call them when they see a car illegally parked."

When he went to the Miami Beach Police station to complain, an officer informed him he broke the law by blocking his own driveway. "I could have sued them for the tow, but it costs more to get a lawyer," he says.

Instead, Barak paid about $300 to get his minivan back. "I showed them my handicapped placard and told them they should be ashamed of themselves," Barak grouses. "They just laughed and told me that they've heard worse hard-luck stories than mine."

Complaints to the city show several other victims like Barak. On September 27, 2012, Nicolle Ugarriza parked her rental car outside her home, the Helen Mar Condo building. She was driving a rental because her own car was in the shop, using daily placards to park in her space. When she was late putting a new tag up one morning, the rental was towed.

"I have to take time out of my busy day to go buy new tags," she wrote to the city. "Was it not enough to just give me a ticket? Did they really need to tow my rental car?"

A month later, on October 26, Matthew Saini left his car in a residential parking spot close to his apartment near Meridian Avenue and Fourth Street. He rode his motorcycle to his second shift at the Fontainebleau Hotel, where he works as an events manager. When he returned in the early morning, Saini saw that MPBD had set up a DUI checkpoint right in front of his building. When he got closer, he realized his car was missing. "I called 911," he says. "The operator told me that a police officer called Beach Towing."

While he was at work, the city had put up temporary no-parking signs. "I am asking that someone from the city look into this situation and offer an apology," he says. Good luck with that.

This March 16, lawyer Gilbert K. Squires parked at a meter near the Nash Hotel and went to his Bikram yoga class. Three hours later, he returned to find his car towed. Squires claims he spoke to a desk manager at the Nash Hotel who told him a valet company operator had put up a no-parking sign while he was gone and called for a tow. "The sign was not there in the morning when I parked," says Squires, who had to pay $280 in towing fees and a parking ticket. "This kind of improper activity should not be tolerated."


Valuables Missing From Towed Vehicles

Go to either Beach or Tremont's tow yards and you'll see big signs warning that management is not responsible for valuables left inside vehicles. Those signs are there for good reason.

According to Miami Beach Police, there have been 15 reported thefts at the two lots between June 2012 and this June. On September 15, for instance, a Delray Beach resident reported that someone from Tremont stole her wallet from her car. But Miami Beach Police told her that since she didn't witness the theft, there was nothing they could do. "It really sucks," she tells New Times. "On top of paying $311 for towing my car, I had to go get a new license and cancel my credit cards."

Nine days later, 42-year-old Miami resident Alejandro Gonzalez accused Tremont employees of stealing $400 from the glove compartment of his car. Again, no witnesses. No case.

On October 6, 23-year-old Randy Fernandez, following his release from jail on a DUI charge, went to Tremont to pick up his car. He called police after discovering that his car had been ransacked and that someone had stolen his iPad and iPhone. "I'm pretty sure it was someone who works for the tow company," Fernandez tells New Times. "Of course, they denied touching anything."

On February 21, 30-year-old Guerson Cruz complained to Miami Beach cops that he believed Tremont employee Marcos Garcia had swiped $500 he had left in his car. According to the police report, Garcia denied taking the cash. Case closed.

Beach Towing has faced its own klepto accusations. On March 31, 23-year-old Mario Trabillo-Justiniauo told cops he suspected Beach Towing employees had jacked a $2,000 HD camera and a $1,500 Macbook from his 2008 BMW 328i. No charges came from that accusation.

Through their lobbyist, Andrade, Beach and Tremont officials declined to comment.


Political Connections Grease the Wheels

Talk to anyone who's been whacked by any of these schemes and they'll ask the same question: How the heck do Tre­mont and Beach Towing get away with it?

The answer is easy: political power. By spending thousands on lobbyists and getting the backing of key city commissioners, the two companies have ensured another long stretch of virtual monopoly.

"There's no doubt they have strong political connections," says City Commissioner Ed Tobin, who last year was on the losing side of a vote that allowed the two companies to increase their towing fees. "They have been doing it that way for years."

To understand the power, you'll need some history. Founded in 1977 and 1984 respectively, Beach Towing and Tremont have been the only tow firms in the city Carl G. Fisher built since '91, when their last competitor folded. Three years earlier, commissioners had approved a measure requiring tow companies to own a lot within city limits. Since the two companies now owned the only spaces zoned for tow lots, Beach and Tremont were the only games in town.

That's translated into a cash cow for Mark Festa, Beach Towing's owner, and Russell Galbut and Keith Menin — owners of the Shelbourne and Mondrian Hotels and dozens of other properties — who bought Tremont in 2011 from Edwin "Tony" Gonzalez.

Although the companies don't provide revenue figures, they each tow roughly 450 cars per week, according to a former high-ranking city official. At $205 ( the Miami Beach resident rate) or $241 (the tourist rate), that means they rake in $92,250 to $108,450 every seven days. That doesn't include the additional mileage and administrative charges tacked on to each bill.

How do they translate that profit into political power?

City law bars Beach and Tremont from raising cash for candidates. But there is nothing stopping them from donating money to candidates outside of Miami Beach. So when Commissioner Jonah Wolfson's wife, Andrea, successfully ran for county circuit judge last year, she received $2,500 in bundled contributions from Beach Towing; Festa, a storage company Festa owns; and two employees. Tremont and 35 companies with the same address as Galbut's company, Crescent Heights, each gave Andrea's campaign $500, for a total of $17,500.

Perhaps not coincidentally, when both companies lobbied hard for a rate increase, their biggest champion on the dais was Jonah Wolfson. During the June 6 commission meeting, then-City Manager Jorge Gonzalez tried to get commissioners to require the tow companies to provide the city with background checks on all employees and to install GPS devices. "Here's your chance to get your accountability measures," Gonzalez said.

Wolfson balked. In fact, one former high-ranking city official who asked not to be named says Gonzalez's opposition to the tow rate hike is the real reason Wolfson started a move to fire him — a movement that ended with Gonzalez's resignation in June.

"Jorge was never in favor of giving them an increase," the source says. "He was standing in the way of Beach and Tremont making an additional million dollars a year."

Six months later, with Gonzalez out of the way, Wolfson again led the charge to raise tow rates. "This is not a tax," Wolfson proclaimed. "This is something people get charged if they leave their car in the wrong place."

Wolfson vehemently denies doing favors for Beach and Tremont even though both firms supported his wife's judicial campaign. "Because we're talking about the tow companies, you want to make it salacious," he says. "My response to asking me if political contributions had something to do with my vote is, 'Go fuck yourself.'"

Of course, Wolfson is just one Miami Beach pol backing Beach and Tremont. Commissioners Deede Weithorn, Jorge Exposito, and Michael Gongora, who is now a candidate for mayor, voted with Wolfson to give the two companies their rate hike at the November 2012 meeting. "People are doing something bad," Gongora said. "This is essentially punishment for people parking in residential zones and parking where they shouldn't park."

The only way to remove the grip Beach and Tremont have on towing in the city is to open up business to firms from across the causeways, Wolfson continues. And that is not ever happening. At least not on his watch.

He says: "If you send people who are here on vacation off the Beach, you end up with a situation where they are traveling to dangerous neighborhoods like Opa-Locka and Liberty City where they'll get their heads shot off."

Gongora is certainly not going to take them on either. He describes Beach and Tremont as "horrible, necessary evils." Phillip Levine, another mayoral candidate, says towing is a "necessary public service in our city."

Even Tobin — who is not up for reelection and voted against the tow rate hike — concedes the city to Beach and Tre­mont. "I don't know that it would be any better without a monopoly," he says. "I think it would be worse if any tow truck could come in here to pick up cars."

The only candidate taking a stand is entertainer Steve Berke, who lost in his bid to beat incumbent Mayor Matti Herrera Bower two years ago.

Berke says that as mayor, he would instruct the city manager and city attorney to require Beach Towing and Tre­mont to pay their drivers a flat hourly rate with no incentives for the number of vehicles towed or have the city completely take over towing operations in Miami Beach, which would kill the duopoly.

"These companies are supposed to be performing a public service," Berke says. "It is a shameful, disgusting state of affairs and an embarrassment to our city."

Tow companies' response from Rafael E. Andrade, Esq.

Below is my only "on the record" response to all of the questions presented. It is respectfully requested that my statement be included in its entirety and without any edits. Based upon past articles and the questions presented, it appears that the story is going to be an unfair, biased, and misinformed attack on the Miami Beach towing industry and my clients. Since a "cover story" is afforded ample print space, I trust that you will honor my request and print the following unedited statement:

"The towing industry in the City of Miami Beach provides necessary and essential services that promote the health, safety and welfare of the community by removing vehicles that pose a hazard to traffic and pedestrians, vehicles involved in police investigations, and vehicles that illegally park in areas that require residential parking permits. On-street parking in the City is insufficient and residents actually pay a fee for a permit that allows them to park in designated areas. To not enforce illegal parking in these areas would be unfair and adversely affect our residents' quality of life. Similarly, towing is necessary for the orderly operation of private businesses. Those that illegally park and interfere with the use of someone else's property have no right to that space. The towing companies exercise caution and diligence before a vehicle is removed and spend considerable resources to investigate all claims and allegations against them. Most are determined to be without support. When a mistake is made, it is corrected. In November 2012 the City Commission adjusted the towing rates for the first time since 2004 based on CPI. That process was thoroughly debated at countless public meetings and was completely transparent. 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."

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59 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.

swinghigh
swinghigh

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.

swinghigh
swinghigh

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

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.

swinghigh
swinghigh

@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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