Towing company won't let customers off the hook

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"Breakthrough Towing doesn't use spotters."

That is according to their attorney, who said that Breakthrough Towing wouldn't think of hiring someone to lurk around a parking lot day after day after day, watching in case you park your car in the liquor store lot and then cross the street for a take-out meal. 

Breakthrough doesn't use spotters. So you don't have to worry about some guy calling a tow truck on you.  A tow truck that arrives so fast you come running out of the restaurant, carryout bag in hand.

"For them to come so quick and already have my car hooked up when I got outside, they must have been waiting somewhere close," said Tyreese, a towing victim.

"I begged, I yelled, I asked him could he please let my car go," said Nicole, another towing victim. "He didn't care.  He took it anyway."

And certainly the fee will be reasonable…

Rob Wolchek: "When you found out it was $395 what did you think?"

"I was devastated," said Alexis, who had her car towed.

Even though the scenario played out every day FOX 2 was watching this parking lot, everybody involved from the liquor store manager …. "I don't know anything about spotters," said Louis, the liquor store manager, who says he makes all the calls to the towing company.

To the tow company owner who drove off when we tried to speak with him, to the guy who's "not a spotter" himself, are sticking to the same story.

Wolchek: "Are you out here spotting?"

"No, for who?"

Wolchek: "For the towing company?"

"I don't know what you are talking about."

Breakthrough doesn't use spotters.

It's a typical day here off Woodward avenue in Detroit.  Blending in among the crowd of busy people is this guy named is Christopher.  

Chris spends all day sitting in his Lexis with heavily tinted windows. The only time he gets out is when he nonchalantly walks through the mid-town liquor store parking lot.  It appears he discreetly takes a photo of a white Lincoln's license plate.

Quickly, he crosses the street and can be seen texting. Exactly six minutes later, the white Lincoln is hooked by Breakthrough Towing.

The tower works fast and is gone by the time the owner of the white Lincoln comes out of the restaurant across the street and sees his car is gone. The Lincoln owner looks freaked.  

While he panics and calls to figure out where his car is, Chris, who is not a spotter, is sitting right next to him.

And when Chris isn't trolling, a lady in a green Chevy with tinted windows is conveniently parked all day. And whenever she's around, people seem to get towed.  And towed.  And towed.

Wonder where Chris is on the days the lady in the green car is watching the lot? You're going to find out in a few minutes.

There's the lady in the green car.  There's a nice red Mustang in the lot.  The driver ran across the street to grab take-out from a restaurant. Here comes red Mustang man, who I contacted a couple of days after we caught this on tape.  His name is Tyrese and I'll let him pick it up from here.

"I ran outside to see if I could get him to stop," he said. "I asked the guy could you take it down?  I'll give you some money to take it off and he said no."

Tyrese ended up getting a ride with the tow driver, with his car being what he called "held hostage" on the back of the truck to the tow office in southwest Detroit.

Next, it's black Honda.

"At that point my car wasn't even hooked all the way," Nicole said. "And I was visible at that point so they knew that the car belonged to me."

We've got video of her car being towed as well.

Wolchek: "Did you say I'll pay for it or anything?"

"I actually did," Nicole said. "He said he did not care. He still needed to take the car."

She didn't get hit with the charge until she got to the tow office.

"Three hundred ninety-five dollars that I had to pay right there on the spot, in cash," she said.

She didn't have the kind money on her so she had to wait for a friend to rescue her.  Then, waited until another tow truck came to lead them to the Breakthrough storage lot miles away.

"The lot was horrible," Nicole said.

She says this lot is filled with so much junk, her car had a flat tire when she finally got it back.

"Somebody's making a whole lot of money - a whole lot of money," Alexis said.

Alexis says it's a racket. She got towed, lost $395 and a whole day at work.

"It was cash only," she said. "They said it had to be cash only."

Latoya stopped off on the way to an evening work party.

"I'm going to park. I'm going to grab my food and then I'm going to run to the liquor store, I'm going to grab a bottle of wine and I'm going to go to the evening event and then I'm going home," Latoya said.

But while picking up her food something happened.

"I see my car halfway up on a platform of a tow truck," she said. "And I'm like shocked."

She too pleaded with the tow driver.

"If I give you money will you take my car down?  He's like no, I can't take your car down," she said.

And that's exactly why, among other things, lawyers Kathleen Garbacz and her partner Tony Paris are suing. They say Breakthrough Towing did the same thing to one of their clients.

The lawsuit says "The Breakthrough Towing LLC tow truck (driver) told plaintiff they had to tow the vehicle, despite plaintiff being present and demanding return of her vehicle, in clear violation of (Michigan law)."

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

The lawsuit also claims Breakthough is charging outrageous fees, and making customers pay in cash only.

"Cash is harder to track and I'm sure Breakthrough knows that," Paris said.

And they have so many victims, they're trying to make it a class action lawsuit.

"It's a minimum of unfair, predatory in and rogue, but it's our position that it's absolutely illegal," Paris said.

The Breakthrough attorney told me "It's not like this is extortion"…. His words.  

Take a look at this video.  A guy gets towed.  He can't get "his" car back, until he comes up with $395 cash.  So the tow guy takes him to the ATM machine.  There's the poor guy counting the cash and there's the tow driver lurking in the background with the guy's vehicle on the truck.

And some of these tow truck drivers are carrying guns.

Heck even a GrubHub delivery guy isn't safe.  This guy is picking up an order to make a few bucks but instead can't dish out his delivery and will have to dish out $395 bucks in cash for the tow. That's a guaranteed one-star rating.

They won't answer the door for me at the office.  And the boss, a guy named Mike Dickerson, runs away whenever I try to talk to him.

So, I decide to talk to Chris, who's not a spotter, but sure acts like one.

Wolchek: "Aren't you working as a spotter for the tow company?"

"No, I'm sorry," he said.

Wolchek: "You don't work for Breakthrough Towing?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said.

Now, I head into the liquor store. His name's Louie.

Wolchek: "We just talked to the spotter guy, that does the spotting for the towing."

"Okay," Louie said.

"Christopher, do you know anything about him?"

"I don't know anything about spotting," he said.

Wolchek: "Spotters from Breakthrough Towing?  You have a contract with them right?"

"Yep," he said.

Louie says he doesn't want people parking in his lot, which I understand.  But even he agrees the punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime.

Wolchek: "What do you think about people having to pay 400 dollars?  Doesn't that seem kind of steep?"

"They shouldn't have to pay that much," he said.

I want to talk to the lady in the green Chevy who often parks wherever she wants. Funny, she left her car in the liquor store lot - and he didn't get towed.  She even got a ticket one day from a Detroit city traffic enforcer. 

What's her story?  She isn’t coming out.

Wolchek: "Can you open the window and talk to me?"  Nope, she stays in her car.

The next day, guess who's out not spotting?  Remember, Breakthrough doesn't use spotters.

"fancy meeting you here Chris. "

Chris says he's just buying lottery tickets even though we've seen him watching the parking lot for a half hour.

Wolchek: "C'mon Chris.  Who are you trying to fool?"

"Not you," he said.

Chris is still sticking with what he said the first time. If you believe Chris, this is going to break your heart.  Take a look at video of him working as a tow truck driver, towing a car right out of the liquor store parking lot.  Chris, you even got your name embroidered on your uniform.

"I do drive a tow truck," he said. "But right now as you can see, I'm not."

So if he's not on the clock as a spotter, what is he doing here?

"I like the area," he said. "I have family that stay up the street.  And it's a free country and on top of that, I don't park where I'm not supposed to."

But take look where Chris is parked.  Uh oh!

Wolchek: "Chris, you're parked illegally right now. You're past the sign!  What if somebody towed you right now and charged you $395 dollars’ cash?  Wouldn't you be mad?"

"I would pull off," Chris said.

Wolchek: "You would pull off?"

Man, I don't even know what that means.

The attorney for Breakthrough Towing said their clients are happy with their service. And they make people pay cash only because it is too easy for people to dispute the $395 charge on their card.

Why is it so expensive? He says it discourages people from parking there again. I would think a $50 fine would be plenty to accomplish that.