Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Friday filed a lawsuit seeking to shut down three Philadelphia towing companies that he said repeatedly towed cars that were not illegally parked and demanded that their owners pay cash to get them back.
In one case, an owner was charged more than state law allows, while other owners reported that when they went to retrieve their cars, a pit bull was used to intimidate them and make them pay, according to the suit filed in Common Pleas Court by the attorney general’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
“You can’t just drive off with someone’s car and hold it hostage because you don’t like where they parked it,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Using the authority of a towing service to extort money from Philadelphians is wrong and illegal, and we’re holding these companies accountable.”
Named as defendants are Miguel Caban, 47; Miguel Caban Jr., 26; and their companies: Siani’s Towing & Recovery, Aubry’s Towing, and Angelina’s Towing & Recovery. Each is based at the same address, 3209 Germantown Ave. in North Philadelphia.
A representative of the companies provided a phone number to reach the Cabans, but neither responded to a text message seeking comment about the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the businesses wrongfully towed cars when they were not illegally parked in some instances, or where signs regulating parking were not clearly and conspicuously displayed.
It also alleges that the owners used tactics “to threaten, intimidate and coerce consumers” so they would not refuse to pay when their vehicles had been illegally towed. Intimidation tactics allegedly included “having pit bulls in the owners’ office when consumers came to pick up their cars.”
Citing the accounts of seven unnamed motorists, the lawsuit also alleges that in certain instances, the businesses demanded cash to release vehicles they had impounded, a violation of city towing laws.
Among the victim stories included in the lawsuit was that of a consumer from Philadelphia who said in January 2019, Siani’s towed her car from her apartment complex despite the proper parking permit being on the window. Three men, two big dogs, and word that the credit card machine was broken greeted the consumer when she went to retrieve her car.
“Consumer felt intimidated,” the lawsuit stated, “so she just paid what they demanded.” That was $205.
An Upper Darby woman whose car was towed by Angelina’s from Allegheny Avenue in Philadelphia in September 2019 complained that her receipt stated that her car was towed from another location, and that when she went to pay $265 to get the vehicle, an employee told her “she only had a few seconds to get out her registration and insurance or he would get the pit bull out.”
The lawsuit asks the court to order the defendants to make full restitution to all consumers who suffered losses; and to pay civil penalties of $1,000 for each violation of the Consumer Protection Law, which will increase to $3,000 for each violation involving victims age 60 or older.
In addition, the lawsuit seeks an order “permanently enjoining the defendants, in any capacity, from doing business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania involving towing or storage of motor vehicles, and ordering defendants to forfeit their right to engage in such trade and commerce within the commonwealth.”
The case is not the first Shapiro has brought over towing practices in Philadelphia. In March 2018, the attorney general announced that another towing company had agreed to pay $13,700 in fines and restitution after an investigation found that it had illegally towed 28 cars in the city.