M. Terry / SFVS

 LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The owner/operator of a Van Nuys towing and storage business accused of illegally towing cars and then charging the owners high fees to recover their vehicles is facing 60 criminal counts, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced this week.

“Holding vehicles ransom and charging excessive fees for their release is an outrageous and unscrupulous business practice,” he said. “My office will continue to crack down on predatory businesses, hold their operators accountable and protect Los Angeles drivers.”

Valley Impound Garage allegedly targeted motorists who used a lot at 9241 Reseda Blvd. in Northridge, towing vehicles within an hour of when they were parked.

One woman told Los Angeles Police Commission investigators that she parked at the lot before visiting a nearby beauty salon. About 25 minutes later, she found that her car had been towed to a lot across the street, where the tow truck driver demanded that she pay $120 cash on the spot or $280 at the company’s Van Nuys tow yard, according to the city attorney’s office.  At least 10 other vehicles were illegally towed from the same lot, according to Feuer’s office.

VIG’s owner, Steven Garcia Sr., 60, was charged with operating without a state motor carrier permit, unlawfully taking a motor vehicle, charging an excessive rate for towing and storage, refusing to accept payment by credit card and vehicle tampering, among other counts.

Garcia was convicted in April 2008 of violating tow truck laws. At the time, he was doing business as Top-Notch Towing.

Steve Garcia Jr., 23, a driver for the company, was charged with two counts of operating a commercial motor vehicle without proper permits.

Another tow truck driver, Aaron Aguilar Cruz, 31, was charged with seven counts, including operating without proper permits and failing to release a motor vehicle not yet towed to the owner upon request.

The owner of the Northridge lot, Kevin Gropp, is facing 10 misdemeanor counts for allegedly using a tow company without the appropriate permits and causing vehicles to be towed within an hour of being parked.  The defendants are set to be arraigned on Sept. 2.

Drivers should be aware that a towing company must:

— Make a good faith inquiry that the vehicle has been parked longer than a one-hour waiting period;

— Immediately release a vehicle that has not yet been removed from private property (the owner may later be billed for the attempted tow);

— Charge only fees permitted by local law enforcement (LAPD permits rates of $121 for the first hour for most standard vehicles); and

— Tow to storage facilities within 10 miles of the tow site and acceptcredit card payments.