The towing industry doesn’t seem to really be regulated, mostly because towing regulation is left up to local city governments. This system can allow corruption and illegal activity to flourish. Local Southern California news outlet The San Bernardino Sun reports that one local towing company has been accused of illegally towing vehicles in a predatory manner, primarily targeting Latino drivers and lower-income individuals.
The city of Riverside, which also happens to be the county seat, is taking legal action against Pepe’s Towing, alleging that the company blatantly violated local and state towing laws by towing and impounding vehicles from a local shopping center. What’s worse these tows were performed without the knowledge of the owner or managers of the shopping center; Pepe’s Towing had no contract with the business.
According to the suit, Pepe’s Towing would have spotters position themselves in and around the shopping center to look out for “vulnerable” individuals. The shopping center just happens to be next to a drive-in movie theater that doubles as a swap meet; the parking lot is often used as overflow parking for the swap meet. As a result, between April 2019 and May 2021, 662 vehicles were towed from the shopping center. Pepe’s made over $252,000 in towing fees from these illegal tows.
All of this was going on without the knowledge of the individuals in charge of the shopping center. The owner, property manager and shopping center security weren’t aware of the activity. The lawsuit alleges that because of this, to appear more legit, Pepe’s attempted to get signed authorization forms from the security company contracted to patrol the shopping center.
Pepe’s also attempted to keep information from drivers when they went to go retrieve their vehicles. The suit alleges that Pepe’s would redact information on forms, including how long the car had been in impound, who authorized the tow, signatures, and addresses. Towing fees would increase if vehicles weren’t picked up by a deadline established by Pepe’s, and many vehicles that weren’t picked up were later sold, with Pepe’s keeping the money.
The city of Riverside called what Pepe’s did “staggering abuse [...] a blatant and bold attempt to take money,” the suit says.
While Pepe’s wouldn’t respond to a request for comment from The Sun, the lawyer for the company denied the allegations, saying “Pepe’s is a model of integrity and professionalism.” The city is seeking damages under California’s Bane Act, saying that Pepe’s coerced and threatened victims to pay towing fees. Officials are seeking a $25,000 civil penalty for each violation, which could result in a judgment of up to $15 million against Pepe’s. If you want to read more about the abuse, head over to The SB Sun to read more.