Towing company told to clean up its act

The Breakthrough Towing lot is where the friendly folks from Breakthrough Towing dump off your vehicle after they've towed your car.

"I think they're doing a disservice to the folks in metro Detroit and I think they should change their business practices," said Dave Bell, city of Detroit.

The Breakthough Towing lot was fined and ticketed for blight, code and compliance violations. It is the latest bad news in what's been a rough month for Breakthrough Towing's owner Michael Dickerson.

My story three weeks ago was about Breakthrough Towing and their claims they don't use spotters who signal tow trucks lying in wait for anyone they deem to be violating the rules in one of the lots they service.

It has been a bad month for Breakthrough. They are getting sued by lawyers who represent clients who claim Breakthrough broke laws in towing their clients and broke their vehicles as well.

Towing company won't let customers off the hook

"In Michigan if you come out and you're in the process of towing your car and they haven’t taken it off the premises yet, they are required to give you back your vehicle," said Kathleen Garbacz, class action lawyer.

The Metro Times has done articles on them possibly using spotters to tow people from a Midtown Detroit McDonald's. Triple AAA cut ties with the towing company. 

The Better Business Bureau is investigating the company and put out an alert, plus, the city of Detroit is now on their case. And I don't think it's going to get any better for them soon because I'm going to introduce you to more victims.

One such victim is Doctor Danielle Penson.  The closest store to the high school where she's a counselor is Midtown Liquor.  She says she routinely stops during lunch hour and buys a soda called a Clear Fruit.

"This particular time I parked, I went and got my Clear Fruit then went across to get something to eat," she said. "When I came back outside, my car was gone."

Doctor Danielle's car was towed, just like the many people I showed you in my first story about this lot.  In it I showed you Chris, a guy we caught taking pictures of license plates on cars of people who crossed the street to go to the restaurant. 

We caught him taking pictures of license plates on cars of people who crossed the street to the restaurant across the street and within minutes a tow showed up, towed up and was gone by the time the people emerged with their take-out meals.

The manager of Midtown Liquor says there are times when his parking lot is full but there are no customers in his store - and he is losing business. But Danielle says she is a regular customer of the store.

Wolchek: "Have you been back to the liquor store?"

"Absolutely not," she said. "I have no intentions or plans on going back because they knew what they were doing,"

Breakthrough Towing also has a contract with the McDonald's right up the street. 

Ronald McDonald doesn't clown around here. They have signs saying that they can tow you if you take more than 30 minutes to eat.

Rich stopped at the McDonald's to use the bathroom and get a fish sandwich.

"I had to wait and there was a long line," he said. "So I finally used the facility, and went across the street for one second and dropped off a business card, I came back to McDonald's to get food and my truck was already hooked up to the chains."

Rich drove with the tow truck driver and his vehicle on the back to the tow office, then, to an ATM.

"I went back into the office and said I have $300 would that work, he said absolutely not, get back in the two truck we'll drive you down to the next bank where you can get an additional $200 before we'll release your truck."

Perry has a similar story.

"Three-hundred ninety-five dollars. I'm a retired veteran. I'm on a fixed income," he said.

His plan was to grab take out from the Mediterranean restaurant, grab some drinks and chips from the liquor store as he's done many times.  Instead, he got towed.  What a way to treat a hero.

Wolchek: "Where did you serve?"

"I did 15 months in Iraq, I was in the Army stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina."

Wolchek: "I see you have a cane. You're a disabled veteran?"

"A disabled veteran, yes sir," he said.

After my first story, where I showed people like Nicole who caught break through towing her Honda but wouldn't release it, and Tyrese who caught them with his Mustang and wouldn't drop it, some people told me "I wouldn't let them take my car."

Well, that's what "Bossman" claims he thought as well.

"They didn't even have my car hooked up yet.  I was trying to find out what they were doing, they're like I'm towing your car," said Bossman. "I'm like you're not. They towed the car while I was on the back of the tow truck and we went to the police station, I tried to make a police report. And they threatened to lock me up for interfering with them trying to illegally tow my car."

He claims he holding onto his car for dear life and it didn't matter.

Wolchek: "You ended up still having to pay right?"

"Yep," Bossman said. "Four-hundred dollars.  Cash."

"What they're doing to people that own cars is ridiculous and should not be happening," said Dave Bell. "But unfortunately I can't enforce that.  What I can enforce is the property maintenance code."

That's Dave Bell.  He's the director of Detroit's Buildings, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department.  He saw my first story.  He immediately sent out his inspectors to check on the company.  

Once they got to the lot, they found more than 10 violations

Wolchek: "Have they responded yet?"

"They have not responded yet but we believe that they will," Bell said. "Because we're not going to stop until we get compliance." 

Well they sure don't respond to me.  Now their drivers are hiding behind masks, videotaping me, but when I approach, they disappear.

This may be just the start of the city’s involvement, I took our story to the Detroit City Council and at least one councilmember is promising action. Mayor Mike Duggan's office is also investigating. 

I talked to the McDonald's franchise owner who said the parking lot is clearly marked with signs that say customers only and that the store is following all the rules and that she is happy with Breakthrough Towing. I also called Breakthrough Towing's attorney - again - but he never called us back.