For the past month, Riptide had been pounding the drum about Tremont Towing snatching cars from a private parking lot on 17th Street at Lenox Avenue in South Beach. Multiple residents have lobbed a laundry list of allegations at the lot, including that it's meter is deliberately similar to the city's nearby electronic meters, yet their cars were towed unless they used the private meter. Others complained that signs warning motorists the lot isn't a city facility were too small and that they were towed for not displaying their ticket properly. Miami Beach resident Hanni Von Metzger even accused Tremont of using two men to rig the machine so the license plate number on receipts didn't match those of cars in the lot -- giving Tremont another reason to tow.
Now Mirmelli has responded, telling Banana Republican his lot is fairly marked and that he's "not in the business of making a buck by towing cars."
Mirmelli returned Banana Republican's call (we'd left multiple messages in recent weeks, but Mirmelli says they were left at the wrong number) after reporters from CBS 4 and Local 10 followed our articles to find out why this particular lot has generated so much ire.
The lot owner says he was hesitant to respond to the complaints in the media. "I was very reluctant to speak to any reporter," he says. "I know a lot of people are pissed off. But I'm not in the business of making a buck from towing cars. If that was the case, pretty soon I wouldn't have any customers."
Mirmelli defends using Tremont to tow cars whose drivers don't pay his private meter. "Towing is a necessary evil in the private parking business," he says. "People simply don't read the signs I've put up."
When Riptide initially reported about the Lenox Avenue lot April 8, there were only two signs instructing parkers where to pay and to properly display their receipts on the dash. Since then, Mirmelli says, he's put up five more signs at all the lot's entry and exit points. As a result, he relays, the number of cars being towed has dropped.
He says he won't help people who pay the city meters, but he claims he has returned towing fees or gotten Tremont to release vehicles free of charge to customers who prove they paid his meter.
Mirmelli also flatly denied Metzger's accusations that Tremont employees were rigging the meter. "The person ahead of her saw the cheapest rate was two hours for $10, decided it was too expensive, and walked away," Mirmelli explains. "It takes a few seconds for a pending transaction to cancel. She didn't wait for it to clear."
He also refutes the claim that he purposely modeled his meter off the city's models to confuse parkers, noting that he purchased his in 2011, a year before the Miami Beach Parking Department began using the same machine.
"It's just a terrible coincidence," he says. "My goal is to make sure people know how to use my meter."
Mirmelli also denies a business relationship with Tremont other than using the company as a towing contractor. Two Miami Beach blogs, Rachel Unleashed and Random Pixels, have recently published posts accusing Mirmelli of being cozier with Tremont than he admits. For example, state corporate records show he was Tremont Towing's treasurer for three months in 2012. His mother, Diedre, is also listed as the principal owner of Tremont Towing Investment LLC.
But Mirmelli says his mom, a 65-year-old retired schoolteacher, only invested in a development project at 1747 Bay Rd. that would include a new storage lot for Tremont.
"She has no involvement in the day-to-day operations of Tremont," he says.
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Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.