“They’re like bandits!” In the middle of the night, towing company takes cars, shocks drivers with new fees

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MILWAUKEE -- In the middle of the night, cars are disappearing from private parking lots all over Milwaukee. They're not being stolen. They're being towed away. One company is towing far more cars from private property than anyone else. And their bill could leave you with a bad case of sticker shock.

$380 is a lot of money.

For that price, you could:

  • Buy a pair of tickets to see the Packers host the Chiefs at Lambeau Field in September
  • Buy an Apple Watch
  • Purchase a pair of iPhones
  • Pick up 95 cups of Starbucks coffee

Or, you could pay get your car out of the impound.

On a recent Sunday morning, a little after 4:00 a.m., FOX6's hidden cameras recorded a tow truck rolling through the Woodlands -- a sprawling condominium complex near 91st and Brown Deer Road.

"They come exactly when they think people asleep," said Carolyn Trammel, a tenant at the Woodlands.

"They sneak up and get the cars and they back out without anyone even knowing that they are over here," said Markquita Macklin, another Woodlands tenant.

This is the night patrol. And it appears they don't want anyone to know they're coming.

"They literally creep around parking lots with their lights off," said Jimmy Williams, a tenant at another complex patrolled by the same company.

"Like bandits," said Anthony Ward. "Thieves in the night."

One by one, they haul cars back to their storage lot at 37th and Wells. And in the morning, tenants all over Milwaukee wake up to an empty parking space. And a bad case of sticker shock.

"They told us it would be $380," Trammel said.

"It was $380," Felicia Rogers, mother of a towed driver said.

"$380," Elizabeth Nelson, a towed driver said.

"$380," Williams said.

"$400," Lalecia Wilkins, another towed driver said.

"$410," Alex Dema, a towed driver said.

"It was going to be $425," Macklin said.

"It's almost $500!" Ward said.

The state recently increased the fees towing companies can charge when they tow cars from private lots. And Mike Tarantino is taking full advantage.


WisDOT is still accepting public comments on the new towing fees.

Click here for more information.


"No one's ever happy to get their vehicle towed," Tarantino said.

He is president of Always Towing, one of Milwaukee's largest private towing companies. And one of its most controversial. So controversial that  Always Towing  recently started a new division with a new name -- 24-Hour Towing.

"So he's doing a sneak attack," said Elizabeth Nelson, a towed driver.

Appropriate for a company whose trucks patrol in the wee hours with their headlights off.

Tarantino

Mike Tarantino, who runs Always Towing, says the fees associated with their tows are justified by the costs they incur for maintaining trucks, training employees and operating sophisticated data management software.

"The idea is to not disturb the tenants that are there," Tarantino said.

It used to be that an unauthorized vehicle had to be ticketed before it could be removed from private property. But a new law that took effect last summer cut police out of the process. Since then, more than 3,000 vehicles have been towed from private property in Milwaukee -- nearly half of them by Always Towing.

"We have a full service parking management program that we offer to the landlords," Tarantino said.

The service is free to landlords who sign a contract, giving Always Towing  virtually unchecked authority to haul away cars -- each tow worth hundreds of dollars in fees. They don't even have to wait for a complaint.

"It's all economics. World goes around with money," Williams said.

Once Always Towing is in charge of parking enforcement, tenants are required to display a parking permit. Failure to do so is automatic grounds for removal. No warnings.

tow victim

Anthony Ward says it's not fair to charge more than $400 for a vehicle that belongs to a tenant who lives in the complex and is not taking up another person's parking space.

"Give a person a chance," Ward says.

No second chances.

"If they caused the vehicle to be towed by not displaying the permit -- they are liable for the charges,"Tarantino said.

Records obtained by FOX6 News show other towing companies tow more vehicles during the daytime and throughout the week. But Always Towing does most of its work between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"You have a lot more traffic at night and on the weekends," Tarantino said.

And that creates a real problem for people like Alex Dema.

"I understand. I got towed. Fine," Dema said.

Dema was visiting his girlfriend's apartment on a Saturday night when Always Towing took his car. But when he called to get the car back, he was told he'd have to wait until Monday.

"His exact words were, 'It sounds like you are in a jam,'" Dema said.

Always - Time and Day of Week

 

 

 

 

 

 

You see, while Always Towing takes vehicles 24 hours a day, you can only pick them up Monday through Friday, and a few hours on Saturday.

"For a towing company to be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day would, again, significantly increase the costs of doing business," Tarantino said.

More tows on the weekend means more money, since state law allows them to charge $30 for every day they keep your car. But it's another recent change by the state that has tenants flooding the FOX6 Investigators with complaints.

Last fall, the Department of Transportation approved Emergency Rule 1425, which set the maximum charge for a private property tow at $120 plus storage and a few other miscellaneous fees, but towing companies convinced the DOT to let them charge more.

On April 30th, the state increased those charges big time with Emergency Rule 1514.

The maximum charge for a tow is now $150 plus another $150 to cover "any other necessary and commercially reasonable charges."

So now, Always Towing includes a $75 administrative fee, a $50 lien processing fee and a $25 gate fee.

"Gate fee? What the heck is a gate fee?" Ward said.

"They have to be escorted to their car, and the vehicle has to be moved within the lot itself," Tarantino said.

All tolled, the new state regulations allow for a maximum fee of $365 plus taxes the moment your car hits the impound lot. The bill often exceeds $400 by Monday morning, because of additional storage fees.

"I don't have $400 to pay for a car that's only worth $800," Nelson said.

"People don't have money like that," Ward said.

"That is half of what I paid for the car," Trammell said.

Tarantino says they have to maintain 15 trucks, a 10,000 square foot building, specially trained staff, security, and a  sophisticated software system with photographs that document every vehicle they tow.

"All that generates an overhead," Tarantino said.

And he says they're providing property owners a valuable service.

"Landlords don't like getting calls at 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning -- 'Hey I just got home from work and someone's parked in my parking space,'" Tarantino said.

But that's what irks some of these drivers the most.

"It's not like our vehicle is being towed from other people's spots because it is not." Ward said.

"I'm parking in my own spot. I don't take anyone's spot. Ya know?" Williams said.

Many of them live in the apartment complexes where they were towed. In some cases, they were parked in their own assigned parking spot.

"102. That's my apartment number," Williams said.

Their only offense -- a missing sticker.

"I was authorized to park here and I just don't feel it was fair," Macklin said.

tow victim 2

Alex Dema doesn't argue with why he was towed, but is upset that he could not get his car back for two days because it was towed on a Saturday night.

"There is a difference between trying to be profitable and taking advantage of people and I really feel they are trying to take advantage of people with this," Dema said.

"It is a thing between right and wrong. Morals and values," Ward said.

If there's a moral to this story, consider the parking ticket Jimmy Williams found on his windshield.

FOX6's Bryan Polcyn: "How much does that cost?"

"$20," Williams said.

If you're going to park your car in Milwaukee overnight, you might just be better off parking on the street

"I have no problem paying this one. I'll go pay this right now,"  Williams said.

Always Towing says it has more than 5,000 contracted properties to patrol.

FOX6 News tried to reach three of the landlords who have contracts with Always -- The Woodlands, Berrada Properties, and SAC Investments. No one returned our calls.

The state's current fee schedule is temporary, but it could soon become permanent. A public hearing on the current rule was held in Madison earlier this week, and the public comment period officially expired on Friday, July 24th, 2015. However, the Department of Transportation's Office of General Counsel tells FOX6 they will try to incorporate any additional comments they receive in the next few days. But time is of the essence. If you'd like to make a public comment about the fees charged for private property towing in Wisconsin, you can send an email to Jennifer Peters -- Jennifer.Peters@dot.wi.gov

27 comments

  • Mike Johnson

    heres an idea if your supposed to display a sticker to park somewhere do it. if your not supposed to park somewhere dont. if you dont want your car towed follow the rules. i agree the fees may be a little excessive but the rules are in plain english dont like the fees dont disregard what you agreed to when you signed your apartment lease

  • Hiponanomous

    What a joke. Every time I hear these great stories (NOT) it just confirms how much I can not stand this great state of Wisconsin. Can’t wait to move to a much warmer state. Hopefully with a governor who actually cares about his state employees!!!!!! Not just the RICH people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Karleigh schmidt

    So I went to my friends apartment in oak creek, oak park apartments, around 8:00 PM on a Monday night. I asked where to park and she told me to park next to her car in the lot, I asked again to make sure because I had heard of this towing happening and she assured me to park in the lot. It was dark and I did not see the sign since it was in the grass past the turn in to the lot. At 10 I went out and my car was towed, when I called the person at always towing was extremely rude to me ( I was not being rude at all) and told me there was no owner I could ask questions to and then finally said the owner would not be in any time I could call. So I had to go down town and bring my grandma ( since his name is also on my title) and pay $380 to get my car back. When I asked why it was that price when my friend had gotten her car towed ONE WEEK prior to this and her fee was $180 I was told they raised their prices within the past week. The regional manager at the appartment complex was also extremely rude when I called and asked them to place a sign within the lifts view so it is easy to read in the dark. My friend who also was parked next to me had her car towed also.

    • Jessica LaCoursiere

      I was with Karleigh Schmidt when this happened and my car was towed as well. The whole experience was a huge headache! We were not parked overnight, we were not parked in anyone’s spot (tons of open spots everywhere and spots are not assigned in this complex!), and for all anyone knows, we ran in for ten minutes. The sign was not easily visible by any means. The sign cannot be seen at night due to the lamp post being farther into the parking lot and the light does not reach the sign. It was not until the next day when I drove past (not in my vehicle) that I noticed the sign. I also noticed that the sign says that cars may be ticketed and/or towed. Fine, ticket my car, I will pay the ticket and be done. I had to be ticketed, towed, and pay $380 to get my car out less than 12 hours after it was towed. I was charged an entire day of “storage” for my car being in the lot just 10 hours. Trust me, if I could get it out sooner, I would have. I also went to this place downtown when it opened, at 8 (the listed opening time), and rang the bell over and over to be buzzed in. No one buzzed me in. I called and the person on the phone said they needed more time so they would open at 8:15. It wasn’t until almost 8:30 that the place opened. I’m trying to get all of this taken care of before I go to work too! I was lucky I started later that day, otherwise I’m not sure what I would’ve done! I can think of so many other things I could do with $380! This amount is so overkill.

      • hunter

        you are an idiot , you even admit that there was a sign there , what are you crying about? another person that is not wrong everbody else is,aparently this is legal, that there are no charges against the company. thanks fox 6 for another bogus story, why dont you report about the intimidation tactics the d.a did during the walker investigations!!!

      • Karleigh schmidt

        Okay first off your rude for calling people idiots. my car getting towed wasn’t the part the I was pissed about the part I got really mad over was that the prices went from $180 to $380 in the time span of a week….if you saw all the made up fees that were on my recipe you’d be pretty pissed off too. But I’m sure you never mess up right?

  • Michael Chase

    They have been doing this is in Whitewater for years! RJ towing. He would make you pay CASH!

  • Kayla

    You wonder why people have been car jacking more. Theyre pissed because their cars are being taken from their own lot. Smh this state is a joke. Not for the people at all just for the money. Theyre all snakes

  • W

    What these guys are doing may seem immoralmpr.unethical, but it is still legal. When people park illegally, in lots or spaces where they arennot permitted tonpark, the law says they have a right to be towed and charged. I’m more concerned about the recent reports of an unmarked tow truck that has been taking cars without a legal reason.

  • Tim Pagel

    How about we discuss personal responsibility for the owners of the towed vehicles. Park in approved areas with mandated stickers and….. No ticket or tow!!! Imagine that. Big you follow the rules, you don’t have to worry about consequences. Amazing concept huh?

    • Eleanor K

      Tim Pagel is clearly one such person being financially compensated for vigilante towing. If not motivated by cash, it’s a G. Zimmerman sense of self congratulatory, ego-masturbation. He feels pride and validation by damaging the livelihood of others. By condescendingly missing the point of our cars being towed and impounded ILLEGALY, for PROFIT. *The exception being a vacant church lot. They pay no taxes… turning a profit from public pavement while vacant. It’s an all too Christian value. Very “New Testament” of them. See Tim? Real wit requires subtlety, you’re not special.

  • Tina W

    I had this happen to me in April of last year (prior to the summer when state law changed) . These people are crooks, and very rude to the general public. I parked in a church parking lot (definitely admitting fault because I shouldn’t have parked there) near a bar for a ladies night out. When I pulled in the lot, there were no visible signs restricting parking. An announcement was made inside the bar that cars were being towed so I went to check on my vehicle but it was too late. My car was towed at approximately 1am and I had no clue who to call for help. Seeing the parking lot for a sign, I finally found it on the church building about 50 feet up, not in plain view. Ant reasonable person would not have looked that far up to find a “No Parking” sign. Anyway the whole experience was a nightmare to say the least and to have to be forced to make a deal with the devil to get a vehicle that you rightfully own was awful. I hope the law changed soon or a civil suit is filed against these crooks because I will happily jump on board.

    That’s my rant now that I’m out of $410 and paid my rent late as a result, have a good day.

  • Keshia

    This has been going on way too much. I use to rent from Berrada properties on 40th and Good Hope. I had just got home at about 3am from buying a new car in Green Bay Wisconsin. I parked the car in MY parking spot. When I got up at 8am the car was gone. They don’t leave you anything saying your car was tow, no number or anything. So I spent about 2 hours trying to figure out what happen to my car. Then another hour trying to get always towing number. When I called Always towing they were very RUDE. Then to find out they took me car at 6am on a Sunday morning and charged me a extra fee for Sunday when their not even open for me to get my car out. By the time Monday came the bill was about $500 which is absolutely Ridiculous. I feel like if this MY parking spot and I’m pay $900 a month to stay here I should be able to park any car in my spot. If I don’t call over night Parking for someone parking in my spot then keep it moving.

    • Keshia

      Oh and another thing. They put their warning signs up so high that you can’t even see them unless you was a squirrel or a bird.

  • gc

    The sign says “Always Towing” not sometimes towing or we will let you off towing. This frees up cops to do more important work than ticketing your car illegally parked and then calling a tow company

  • Chrystal

    @ mike Johnson:
    What if the tenant has recently purchased a new vehicle and has not yet received their sticker? Should they park blocks away to not be towed from their parking spot just feet away from their front door?
    The company claims to have ALL this technology and computer equipment, why don’t they run a quick license plate check to see who the owner is of the vehicle they are about to take to see if it matches up? What is all that training going for? Cause basically all they’re being taught is a larger form of pick pocketing.

  • victims

    I do believe that some of the lots these vehicles r being towed from have spotters & are receiving kick backs from 24 hour towing company. My car as well as my 2 sisters cars were towed from the same lot on the same evening each of us had 2 pay $381 to get our cars back. My family members have been using that lot for nearly 2 yrs the same amount of time our parents have been living in the building. When speaking to the property manager the next morning he stated parking signs r posted but as of recent r being enforced. I brought up the fact that our parents have been living there for nearly 2 yrs & 1 of us would have noticed a sign to say no parking on the lot without a sticker posted inside of r vehicles. I told him u don’t change horses in the middle of the race if there r rules for the parking lot they should always b enforced or not at all & more importantly all tenants should b aware of the lots rules when they sign the rental or leasing agreements & would in turn warn/inform their visitors .

  • Lisa taubnwr

    I was towed from the FedEx lot on farewell Saturday. Parked in a spot with No sign, even saw the tow truck sitting there ….. Waiting. Went into the bar outdoor patio right up against the wall we parked at (again… No sign) and half hour later we saw our car being towed! $410 and much inconvenience to get it out. This is robbery and something NEEDD TO BE DONE!

  • Ingrid Buxton

    These tow companies must have given big donations to Walker and the GOP. They are getting their payback now.

  • Tyronza

    Yeah… This happened to me on my lot. We don’t have assigned parking & there isn’t enough space to accommodate all residents. I work 2nd shift so when I get home around 11, 11:30 at night, all the parking spots are taken. I parked on the side of the building. I heard the truck at about 3am. I ran down to explain to the driver that I have a sticker but no spot to park.he looked around & agreed. He said ok… He left & I went back in the house. Woke up to my vehicle still gone… They came back at about 6, 6:30am.
    That’s ridiculous.. I paid almost $500 to get my car. They just kept tacking on fees…
    I had to get my car towed off their lot… I called like 9 tow companies no one would tow off their lot. So I had to pay then to tow my car… Then they wouldn’t tow my car to where I told them to tow my car. ( I’m paying for a tow, you are suppose to tow my car where I tell you to).
    Then they asked for my keys… When I asked why they told me that it’s easier to tow.. I refused & they said that it’s an additional $20 if I don’t give then my keys. I was so upset. They talk to you like you crazy & that thick mirrored glass.. You don’t even know who you talking to. They know what they’re doing… They know they doing wrong!!

  • Silence Dogood

    WELCOME TO PRISON – FARM WISCONSIN!!!
    Perhaps a class action suit or at least a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission is the way to deal with scum collusion like this. My own experience is similar. I grew up in Milwaukee when it was a very nice place to live. But boy has it changed!!! I came back “home” (although it is embarrassing to refer to it as such now) to visit my elderly relatives. My first hot, humid night back, around 3 AM I heard some metal clanging noises out the bedroom window. I look out and to my horror, see my rental car being hoisted up on a tow truck. I run outside in my pajamas to see dudes in dark clothing absconding with my vehicle. Although I plead with them that they are making a mistake, the heartless scoundrels proceed with their vile business. I run to get my cell phone camera taking pictures of the evil act. My rental towed away to place unknown I call 911 thinking this must be theft. My heart racing and blood pressure elevated I request emergency medical assistance as I am now experiencing chest pains. After several phone calls to the police who advise me of this vicious excuse for a law, I call around town looking for the tow company who might have taken the car. I find out it was the usual suspect’–Always Towing!! I had to get to their lot via city bus but once I am there and ready to hand over the $500 to free my rental, they will not release the car because the car registration is in the glove compartment and I have no other proof of ownership. They refused to get the registration and rental agreement out of the glove compartment because it was “against their rules to go in the vehicle” obviously a stalling tatic to accrue more storage fees!!!! The slime is disgusting!!! My nightmare is like others—I was parked in my relative’s legal spot that they pay for but they had not been given a sticker!! I say this is modern day highway robbery at its lowest and most repulsive. The city of Milwaukee politicians and lawmakers perhaps are in collusion with these scumbag scam-artist tow companies and owners by passing a not very well thought-out law not meant to protect its citizenry but meant to place undue hardships upon them. As a former resident — now a visitor, I say the city is doomed unless reforms are made to correct pernicious injustices such as this. To those who may want to visit an erstwhile wonderful and beautiful city, be forewarned about its prison-farm shakedown tactics, and perhaps take your tourist dollars elsewhere!!!!!

  • dina

    How about if someone get towed & can’t afford to get it out & they a car note…..can they force sign the car note to the towers……they wouldn’t like that…..they bogus….then they gotta have the nerve to have attitude

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