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“You’re robbin’ folks blind!” New law cuts police out of private property towing process

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Be extra careful where you park your car!  A new state law makes it much easier for private property owners to have you towed. Tow truck drivers in Wisconsin are not required to be licensed or bonded, meaning just about anyone can tow cars. That includes convicted felons. And now, they can tow your car without even waiting for police to write a ticket.

Bob Caldwell was shopping at a Save-A-Lot grocery store at 76th and Mill Road in northwest Milwaukee back in December when  a tow truck hauled off the family minivan.

"You're full of it. You need to be stopped. The people need to know what you're doing is wrong," Caldwell said.

"I'm the driver," Oliver Castillo said.

Castillo works for Cars, Inc., which - until very recently - had a contract to patrol the parking lot at the Mill Road shopping center.

"People just come and park in the fire lanes, leave their car, go to the stores. Like, you blocking the traffic," Castillo said.

Castillo says Caldwell's van was parked in a handicapped space. Caldwell says that's not true.

"As you can see, there's no handicapped sign here. There's no illegal parking," Caldwell said.

Who's telling the truth?  That is hard to say.

"You can say something, I can say something," Castillo said.

If only someone had a picture.

caldwell confronts tow drivers

Bob Caldwell was shopping at the Save-a-Lot grocery store at 76th and Mill Road on December 9, 2014, when Cars Inc. towed his minivan. He says he was parked legally. Cars Inc. says he was in a handicapped space.

"I said, 'where's this photo of my vehicle being illegally parked?' He didn't have it," Caldwell said.

"He's lying. I mean, we got a picture for every car that we tow," Castillo said.

Castillo said FOX 6 could see the picture, but we'd have to get it from his boss. A few days later, we found his boss parked near 11th and Mitchell and approached him to ask questions.  52-year-old Shaun Brayden didn't stick around long enough to answer any questions.

"I didn't know who you were!" Brayden insists.

Brayden says he drove away because he was scared and didn't know who was at his window. But minutes later, the same flatbed tow truck was driving through the FOX 6 News parking lot.

"I admitted I was there by accident," Brayden said.

Turns out, after making a pass through the FOX 6 News parking lot, Brayden drove to the Brown Deer police station and tried to file a harassment complaint. A few days later, he called FOX6 and requested an on-camera interview.

"And apologized for being mean to you and hanging up the phone and stuff," Brayden said.

At first, Brayden told FOX6 News they only keep photos for 30 days.  Then he said Caldwell's picture got lost. Now...

Shaun Brayden of Cars Inc. agreed to a sit down interview after reporting FOX 6 News to police for "harassing" him and "jumping out" at him.

Shaun Brayden of Cars Inc. agreed to a sit down interview after reporting FOX6 News to police for "harassing" him and "jumping out" at him.

Bryan Polcyn / FOX6: "Where's the picture?"
Shaun Brayden / Cars Inc.: "Well, you ask the police officer what he did to the picture."
Polcyn: "So now police have the picture instead of you?"
Brayden: "They seen the picture."
Polcyn: "How did you give it to them? Do you guys have a printer at the scene?"
Brayden: "No, it's in the phone."

With every conversation, the story changes.

Brayden: "No I'm not changing the story."
Polcyn: "You've changed the story every time I've talked to you."
Brayden: "No I don't. No see, now you're just looking to belittle me and make me look stupid."

The night Caldwell's van was towed, he called police.

"He called the car in stolen!" Brayden said.

But officers told him there was nothing they could do. It was a "civil matter." If Caldwell wanted his van that night, he'd have to pony up what Cars, Inc., was demanding: $295.00 cash.

"What am I supposed to do?" Caldwell asks, rhetorically. "I mean, we rely on our vehicle for me to get my kids back and forth to school."

Quianna Brown can sympathize.

"I came out here and, my car was goin' down the street!" Brown said.

Brown says Cars, Inc., towed her SUV from the alley behind her garage. Not just once, but twice in four days. The first time, she paid to get it back.

"$311? That's not right!" Brown said.

The second time, she pleaded with her landlord, who asked Brayden to give the car back for free. But when she showed up to get it, Brayden argued.

"He got real rude and disrespectful," Brown said.

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Quianna Brown says Cars Inc. towed her car twice in four day from directly behind her own garage. The first time she paid $311 to retrieve it. The second time, her landlord talked Cars Inc. into giving the vehicle back free of charge.

He eventually gave in. Once again, he doesn't have a picture to prove she was parked illegally.

Anders Zanichkowsky says that's the problem.

"Was the sign posted properly? Was the car really parked where they say it was?" Zanichkowsky said.

Zanichkowsky is Program Director for the Tenant Resource Center of Wisconsin. He says these disputes may be the tip of the iceberg thanks to a change in state law that took effect last summer.

"This bill allows landlords to tow vehicles without calling the police first," State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said.

It used to be that police had to ticket a car before it could be towed from private property. Not anymore.

"I think that when you remove law enforcement from that process, there's no longer a neutral third party with no business stake in what happens," Zanichkowsky said.

Under the new law, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WISDOT) decides how much towing companies can charge. Under an emergency rule that took effect in October, the maximum charge is $105 for a regular tow plus $20 a day for each 24-hour period of storage. FOX6 News found Cars, Inc., routinely charges more than $300 for a tow, even when owners claim their vehicle the same day. Many of those owners have low incomes.

"That might be their grocery money for the month,"Zanichkowsky said.

And because police are no longer involved in writing tickets, a vehicle owner's only remedy may be Small Claims Court.

"It's a crack in the rules that allows a really great opportunity for a widespread small time racket," Zanichkowsky said.

"I think it just opened the door," Caldwell said.

And consider whom it opened the door to.

USDOT number on the side of the Cars Inc. truck is registered to a company called "Toms Cars Inc," which is listed to a man convicted of attempted murder.

USDOT number on the side of the Cars Inc. truck is registered to a company called "Tom's Cars Inc," which is listed to a man convicted of attempted murder.

According to the USDOT number stamped on the side of the Cars, Inc., tow trucks, the vehicles are officially registered under the name "Tom's Cars Inc." Brayden initially stated that was the "same company." Now, he says otherwise.

"I don't know Tom's Cars Inc. I don't affililate with Tom's Cars Inc.," Brayden declared loudly, during a sit down interview with FOX6 News.

Tom's Cars Inc. is registered to a man named Jamie Blas, who was convicted of attempted murder in 1994. Blas is in jail again.

"I don't know anything about that," Brayden said.

Brayden says he just leases the company from a woman named Diana Blas.

Polcyn: "So you don't know Jamie Blas?"
Brayden: "No, I don't."
Polcyn: "Can you understand why that comes off as evasive?"
Brayden: "I don't know. You tell me."

Brayden is a felon himself with a history of questionable towing practices.

In 2010, West Milwaukee police say Brayden worked for Always Towing, when the company towed 15 cars from a bank parking lot without the bank's permission.

"I never ordered any cars towed. I was in the hospital, run over by [a] car," Brayden said.

Brayden says he wasn't even there, but his name is all over the police report.

Brayden: "I didn't tell police nothing."
Polcyn: "Says right here."
Braydne: "No it doesn't."

Police were planning to seek criminal charges until Brayden's employer agreed to pay the victims back.

If you're wondering how a guy like Brayden got a license to run his own towing business, the answer is, he didn't have to. Milwaukee Alderman Joe Dudzik says neither the state of Wisconsin nor the city of Milwaukee requires tow truck operators to be licensed.

"Right now, you can basically get a pickup truck with a hook on it, and start towing cars," Dudzik said.

In other words, anyone can tow cars in the city. Even a convicted criminal with a nasty temper. Last year, county workers in Racine say Brayden harassed them with a series of vulgar and threatening calls related to a family court case. The calls were so out of line, Racine County filed a restraining order against him. And won.

He can't call county workers on their work or personal phones anymore. But he can haul away your personal property. That's why Bob Caldwell is making so much noise.

"You're robbin' folks blind! You're gonna get stopped. I'm suin' you. I already done told Shaun I'm suin' Shaun," Caldwell said.

He's not ready to let Cars Inc. off the hook.

The owners of the Mill Road shopping center tell FOX6 they are undergoing a sale of the property and have terminated their contract with Cars, Inc.  On February 18th, West Milwaukee police served Cars, Inc., with an order to stop doing business on their lot at 4000 W. Mitchell Street. Police Chief Dennis Nasci says Brayden had previously been warned that he does not have the required occupancy permit.

The city of Milwaukee recently convened a task force to study scrap metal thefts in Wisconsin. That task force is now recommending, among other things, that tow truck operations and their drivers be licensed. The regulatory framework they envision would include periodic inspection of tow trucks, as well as a requirement that they send police a digital photograph of every vehicle they tow, along with other information. Alderman Dudzik hopes to have legislation drafted by next month.

Always Towing says the 2010 incident in West Milwaukee occurred when Brayden was a subcontractor for the company. After that incident, a spokesman for Always Towing says they terminated their relationship with Brayden. Brayden says he quit.

16 comments

  • Lorena Guzman

    A vehicle that is still under my name was towed while at the DMV on Chase in parking lot. I never received a bill or a statement stating why it was towed. A month later I received a letter from the city tow yard telling me I owed them over $700.00 to get the vehicle out or it would be sold. I need help clearing this up and why it occurred.

  • exlonghauler

    Wal-mart needs these guys to work their lots ! Some days you can’t even drive through due to all the cars in the fire lanes as well as double parking in the drives. I can see this for loading or unloading large items but when you see a family of 400+ pounders all roll out and waddle up to get more greasy fried chicken and sugar covered bakery you just want to scream.

  • Valarie Janowski

    I love this as I live in Milwaukee and 4 nights a week I come home to find a car parked on my PRIVATE parking slab in the back of my home. So tired of people parking back there because they didn’t pay their parking tickets and no longer can park on the street, so they think just because my car is not there at the time they need to park that it is okay for them to park there. Screw that!!! Be responsible and don’t park where you don’t belong and you will not have any issues. If you don’t park in fire lanes or in alleyways then you won’t have a problem!!!!!!

  • GodSaveWI

    Let me guess, this law to privatize towing was Scooter’s brain child? More corruption, just like with the renewal stickers and for-profit schools.

  • Glenda Clarke

    THIS RECENTLY HAPPEN TO ME AND I HAVE NOT BEEN TOLD WHERE MY VEHECLE HAS BEEN TOWED TO IT’S NOT ON A CITY LOT AND WAS NOT ILLEGALY PARKED, BUT YET THE POLICE DEPT HAS IS COVERING THE OWNER OF THIS COMPANY BY NOT FILLING A REPORT I REFUSE TO PAY FOR A TOW AND STORAGE WHEN I HAVE NOT ENTERED ANY CONTRACT THIS SERVICE . SO ALL I HAVE IS A TELEPHONE # . BUT IN RESEARCHIG, I MAY HAVE FOUND THE INDIVIDUAL BUT NOT THE LOCATION . THEN I CAME ACROSS THIS STORY THIS IS THEFT AND EXTORTION.

  • Sue

    Shaun Brayden is a woman beating, compulsive lying drug addict who has been ripping people off for decades. He deserves anything he has coming to him.

  • Mckenzie

    You guys did something about my dad Shaun brayden… You put in it something about him cussing out people in Racine over a family matter… Just to let you know that family matter involved his kids and him wanting to see us and wanting to stick up for us! If your going to dig that deep to try to expose someone next time show everything! My dad does have a temper but the line of work he does is not easy! I grew up watching my dad getting chased with led pipes in horrible neighborhoods just to tow a car. But I doubt you will say anything about that to the public. And then exposing his record… Wow he hasn’t been convicted in YEARS… Atleast he’s doing something productive! What are you trying to do destroy your business? Why don’t you show some people who had good experiences with him? And how are you going to blame him for the pictures he wasn’t even the one who was sapposed to take them it was the person who worked for him! How is that his fault! People try to lie and say there cars weren’t parked illegally all the time and maybe not all of them are lieing and mistakes are made but how do you know for sure? Especially if your not even the person who towed the car. I wish someone would dig up your skeletons and tell them to the world!

    • Jeff Lanthripp

      Your dad hasn’t been convicted in “YEARS” huh? How touching. You know, Charles Manson hasn’t been convicted of a crime in over 40 years? I guess that means he’s an A-OK guy now?

  • sandy

    People never admit to parking in fire lanes, loading zones, no parking zones or a handicapped parking spot. Then they lie and cheat to get there cars back. They threaten the tow truck drivers with knives, chains and guns. They break into the lot to steel back there cars and attack the lot personal with bricks. There have been drivers shot and injured just doing there job the apartment owners want them to do. Living in an apartment complex you get a parking space. These people think they can do what ever they want and then cry to the landlord to get there car back and think they do not have to pay. These towing companies have business expenses. They have payroll, fuel, insurance, licenses and most of all they pay rent or own expensive property in Milwaukee. They can not give back the cars and loose the money they need to do the job they are hired to do. The City of Milwaukee sets the prices that these towing company’s can charge. Milwaukee makes more money than must of the tow companies. As fare as employees–company’s in this country know it is hard to find good employees. Either they don’t want to work hard to make a living and feel the country owes them a living. They do not or can not follow instructions on there duties, and take advantage of there boss. They steel, cheat and get away with things like using the tow trucks to tow their own family and friends and pocket the money. Then they expect the boss to pay them for there time. The days of a person working to support there family are over and all they want is the government and boss to pay them.

  • Your past

    He has been this way and worst, you just don’t know. You got about 5% of what he does. He makes drug dealers look good. I put him in the category of child molesters. He’s no better. That is for sure!

    • Mckenzie

      Excuse me, I just so happen to know all of my dads past! And seriously child molester? My dad has never done anything to be put in that category! You must not know him too well yourself! Maybe if you were brave enough to put your name we could expose YOUR past as well! Please get a life and stop hiding behind a computer screen!

  • Charles Cleveland

    If anyone knows of any way i can get in contact with Bob Caldwell im in great need of his help….Thanks

Comments are closed.