The owner of a Redwood City towing and storage company accused last year of charging excessive rates to use a dolly, refusing to release vehicles to paying owners and not providing proper documents will pay more than $40,000 in penalties and restitution.
Isabel Trujillo of Specialty Towing and Specialty Towing and Recovery, Inc. at 2666 Middlefield Road agreed June 6 to pay $42,330 and comply with towing laws but did not have to admit any wrongdoing as part of the stipulated judgment. The total includes $20,000 in civil penalties plus $22,330 for a restitution program to repay 283 customers unlawfully charged fees by Specialty.
Trujillo originally faced more than $100,000 in penalties after prosecutors first filed the bad business practices allegations in February 2012 and was scheduled for trial next Monday.
Instead, Trujillo’s attorney Dek Ketchum said the issue for his client was not proving her innocence but settling on the amount of restitution for an honest mistake by someone fairly new in the business.
“This is not some predatory towing practice,” Ketchum said.
Prosecutor Chuck Finney of the consumer and environmental unit, said the resolution is a good settlement and a reminder to towing businesses about good practices.
“This is a great message to other companies that may be doing this,” Finney said.
The alleged violations involved cars primarily towed from private property in Redwood City with a few from Menlo Park, Finney said.
Specifically, Specialty Towing allegedly moved automobiles without the presence of the property owner or operator to give authorization; charged excessive rates to use a dolly which is not allowed by the police department or California Highway Patrol; refused to let a driver be present when the vehicle is about to be towed to pay half the regular charge to have it released; failed to give the consumer a copy of the towing authorization before he or she paid for release from the storage facility; and, failed to give the consumers — prior to paying the tow and storage charges — a copy of a notice advising them to contact law enforcement if they believed the tow was illegal.
Finney said motorists whose cars are towed often think they have no rights so will pay whatever amount is charged.
However, “don’t just roll over if you think it is too high,” he said.
Instead, he said drivers who feel they have been charged an excessive amount should know they are entitled to a signed copy of the signed authorization by whoever ordered the tow and notice of what charges are allowed by the local law enforcement. In Specialty Towing’s case, special equipment like a dolly was not authorized by the Redwood City branch of the California Highway Patrol. Dollies are used to remove a car from a parking spot so that it can be hooked up to a tow truck.
Ketchum said Trujillo’s mistake was easy enough to make because each Peninsula city sets its own rules on what fees can be charged — for instance, San Carlos allows a dolly fee.
“She has since made an effort to get familiar with the rules and done an education for her employees,” Ketchum said.
Anyone with concerns about towing practices should contact Finney at the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office at 363-4097.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102