SAN ANTONIO - The city and Bexar Towing are headed for a showdown in court next week, after a judge refused to throw out the case today. Bexar Towing had asked Municipal Court Judge Robert Lipo to dismiss more than 400 tickets that police had written to towing companies for over-charging.
A city ordinance says they can't charge more than $85, but until recently, companies were charging close to $300.
An investigation by News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila first uncovered San Antonio drivers were being over-charged. Now he's breaking another big development in this story.
While Bexar Towing and the city are tangled up in court, the state has taken action. For the first time, refund checks are being mailed out to people who were towed.
Bexar Towing was forced to send out refund checks as part of an agreement with the state. Otherwise, it would have been hit with $143,000 in penalties.
The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which polices towing companies, was flooded with complaints after our undercover investigation into towing practices at the downtown Greyhound station.
Bexar Towing was using spotters to quickly tow vehicles, and then charging a fee of about $293 to get the car back.
It happened to Angelica Lopez last December, when she came to pick up her mother visiting from Laredo.
“They had a guy watching from the warehouse with a radio calling in the towing truck, I mean it all seemed so premeditated. It was so obvious what they were doing, I felt like I'd fallen into a trap really,” Angelica said.
Angelica saw our investigation online and filed a complaint with Licensing and Regulation. On November 16th, almost a year after she was towed, she received a check in the mail from "TVSF, Inc.", which is the corporate name for Bexar Towing.
“We had really forgotten about it. We thought that nothing was going to come of it, but if you follow the process, something good happens. Thank you so much with your help for this,” Angelica said.
Our investigation found that under city ordinance, towing companies can only charge $85. The city allows them to tack on impound and storage fees, plus tax, for a total of $128.
So angelica got a check for $165; the difference between the $293 she paid, and the $128 limit.
Bexar Towing was facing a deadline from the state to send refunds to about 50 people, for a total of $9,647, due to over-charging, improper signage and other violations.
Another local towing company, Atlas, also agreed to send out some refunds, but for only $976.
It's the first time TDLR has ever ordered tow companies anywhere in the state to pay refunds to consumers. It means Bexar Towing can no longer make the claim it made when our investigation aired last year.
“The law says everything we're doing is by the book, and the law has never refunded a nickel for towing on this property,” we were told, by John DeLoach, former owner of Bexar Towing.
TDLR tells News 4 WOAI Bexar Towing could face more refunds because of pending complaints.
Both Bexar Towing and Atlas Towing have argued that the city is required by state law to do a tow fee study before it can enforce the lower fees.
Bexar Towing's attorney told us: "Bexar Towing made a business decision to resolve these cases. Nothing in the settlement prevents Bexar Towing from challenging the validity of the ordinance."
The owner of Atlas Towing told us by text: "The city continues its bully, oppressive tactics... ...if TDLR is forcing us to pay, they should make the city comply..."
Remember, the check Angelica received was from "TVSF, Inc.", Bexar Towing's corporate name. There was no letter with it or mention of what it was for. She almost threw it away thinking it was one of those scam checks. So if you filed a complaint with the state, keep that in mind.
TDLR says if you believe you were over charged for a tow after September 1st, 2011, you can file a complaint with them and they will investigate whether you are entitled to a refund. Click here to visit their website...