Towing tandem charged

Responding to complaints about predatory towing in downtown Asheville, Asheville police parked a decoy car as bait Saturday night on Lexington Avenue, then reeled in their catch.

Police charged two men, 25-year-old Trevor Kyle Ballinger (pictured on left), and 32-year-old Leonard Tobias Best, of All-Safe Towing & Recovery, with obtaining property by false pretense after police say they illegally towed a vehicle from the parking lot at 93 N. Lexington Ave.

Officers parked a vehicle in the lot about 10:30 p.m. Saturday and put $3 into a parking lot collection box. The lot works on an honor system, so parkers don’t get a receipt after paying. Police watched the car, and saw the All-Safe employees tow it away at 11:51 p.m. Police stopped the tow truck on Hill Street and made the arrests.

Earlier this month, Mountain Xpress reported on the continuing complaints regarding towing companies in Asheville. The story noted that many of the complaints center on All-Safe Towing and that Asheville City Council is poised to make changes early next year to local ordinances aimed at clamping down on predatory towing. All-Safe Towing Manager Danny Jones told Xpress that his company operates fairly.

City Attorney Bob Oast says he’s modeling his proposal on the city of Raleigh’s ordinance governing towing companies. That law requires the companies to accept debit and credit cards as well as cash, says Oast, and to be on call 24 hours a day, return phone calls within 15 minutes and release impounded vehicles within 45 minutes. Raleigh’s ordinance also prohibits such companies from hauling off a vehicle if the owner shows up while it’s being towed and caps the fee they can charge in such cases at $50. Some cities go a step further, requiring towing companies to notify the police when a car is removed.

Asheville already requires owners of private lots to post conspicuous signs warning people that they could get towed, and those rules may be tweaked.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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30 thoughts on “Towing tandem charged

  1. Kriss

    That is great news! Predatory illegal towing caught in the act. Excellent job by police in trying to crack down on this.

  2. b.c.w.

    AllSafe towing towed my car from a lot that I had a clearly displayed permit for about 4 years ago when I worked for a downtown business. I had placed my tag in my dash and parked my car in my usual spot before I left. Came back 2 hours later and my car was gone. I called up and was as nice as possible but still firm in stating that my tag was in my car, in the dash, and that I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to park in a spot that I knew was a clear tow-away area if I hadn’t had a pass. They ‘bargained’ with me to let me out of the lot for $40 if I could prove the sticker was in the car. I got to the lot, found my sticker in my passenger seat on TOP of everything else I had in the seats because when they tilted my car up to tow it, the sticker slid in to the seat off the dash. Of course they would NEVER admit to this and it was of course all my fault in their eyes. I always maintained they were jerks and were predatory towers. Too bad it took them 4 years to finally have SOME repercussions come their way.

  3. I was wondering about this process. People at times come across the street and get change from us to put in the money slots. Would their cars get towed then?

    Perhaps a class action lawsuit could brew against All-Safe?

  4. Tired of the tow trucks

    I’m glad to see some steps towards towing moderation. It’s long overdue.

    If only they could do something about the over the top policy of the parking lot owner at the Dripolator. Video surveillance and near-instant towing of the customers of a paying tenant doesn’t build good vibes for anyone. It would be entertaining to know what the owner’s split of towing fees is for that lot.

  5. Hmmm

    They towed this car unlawfully. Why isn’t this considered grand theft auto?

  6. Kriss

    “They towed this car unlawfully. Why isn’t this considered grand theft auto?”

    The same question crossed my mind. Not only was it illegally taken, therefore theft, it was taken with the clear intent to extort money from the owner, also a crime, as far as I know.

  7. brebro

    The guys apologized and said it was just a mistake and they were about to leave, but the cops said, “sorry, once we have the cuffs on you, we have to take you in.”

  8. Kriss

    Perhaps the cops should have let them pay a “minimum cuff release fee” which was half of what their fine would be if taken to jail.

  9. MusicLover45

    “They towed this car unlawfully. Why isn’t this considered grand theft auto?”

    The law states that you must have the intent to “permanently deprive” the owner of their vehicle. These crooks just did it for the money. It is still a felony and hopefully the judge will make an example out of them. Good job by APD.

  10. Piffy!

    I woulda jailed the guy just for having a faux-hawk.

    these guys should be ABSOLUTELY charged with grand theft auto

  11. Piffy!

    “The guys apologized and said it was just a mistake and they were about to leave, but the cops said, “sorry, once we have the cuffs on you, we have to take you in.” ”

    Yeah, i tried that after accidentally robbing a likker store, and it worked great.

  12. Donna

    Cudo’s for APD I’m glad they got these guys. Thank you Mountian Express for being and advocate to the public at large.

  13. erica

    i parked in the lexigton lot on a wed night and put in my $3. mr. balliger approached me as i finished putting in my money and asked if he could get into the payment box. we exchanged pleasantries, 2 hours later a friend called me to tell me mr. balliger was towing my truck. i arrived in time to stop him from driving off with my vehicle in tow. he tried to convince me he didn’t remember me and that i didn’t pay to park. he tried to pull up a picture of the payment box on his digital camera, all the while arguing with me that he wouldn’t be towing me if i paid. once he finally got the camera to work and it showed that i had put money in he said i was lucky because he wasn’t even sure if that photo was from that night or the night before. how can he be using a camera that doesn’t give the dates on the display to prove that someone paid or didn’t pay? not to mention he has to open the box to take the picture he can easily take the money out before he snaps the shot! the owner of this company needs to be prosecuted and all the people that weren’t as lucky as i was and got their cars towed should be reimbursed.

  14. September Girl

    This is quite the heart warming story. I hope they had to post their bail in cash!

  15. Erica, is this the lot across from our store (TV Eye) and Rosettas? Did this happen recently? I want to relay your story to the owner of the lot.

    thanks

  16. Mitchxout

    I’d like to know how they can already be towing cars again?

    I work near this company’s lot and they’re

    pulling cars in as fast as before the big bust.

  17. Jeff Fobes

    Mitchxout: If you can SEE the activity on the tow company’s lot, i wonder if there would be some use in documenting what gets towed in/out, via a web cam from your office.

  18. Kriss

    I would love to see some aggressive investigative reporting on this parking/towing problem in Asheville. Obviously a lot of people are being unfairly ripped off by these predatory towers and possibly even parking lot owners who may be in cahoots with them.

  19. b.c.w.

    I’m with Kriss. I would however like to see the practices of these towing companies investigated with regard to their practices for PRIVATE lots as well, to see if paying patrons are having their cars maliciously towed the way mine was.

    Another thought… The owner of AllSafe has commented before about the high costs of running/insuring a towing business. If they wouldn’t drive their tow trucks 24/7 looking for cars to rip out of lots and only drive when specifically requested to pick up a car by a lot’s owner, they’d save themselves some cash. Think about it!

  20. Kriss

    “I’m with Kriss. I would however like to see the practices of these towing companies investigated with regard to their practices for PRIVATE lots as well, to see if paying patrons are having their cars maliciously towed the way mine was.”

    That’s exactly what I was talking about, b.c.w. Could there be some collusion there in some cases? It would be interesting to find out how much kickback, if any, on towing charges goes back to individual private lots. I’m not accusing anybody of anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out there was a very tempting incentive to have cars towed, even those that are parked completely legally and within the rules of the parking lot, as yours was. There’s apparently a lot of easy money to be made in towing where you have little or no regulation or oversight by others, such as in Asheville.

    That’s why we need somebody with the expertise and resources to look into this in depth and bring all this out in the open.

  21. Jeff Fobes

    Patrik Jonsson’s Christian Science Monitor article is good.

    Here’s a quote from that article:
    “‘There are tow companies out there that are becoming more and more visible, out there hijacking cars,’ says Ron Smith, of Houston-based Compiled Logic, which tracks ‘non-consensual tows.'”

    [Compiled Logic’s website is
    http://www.compiledlogic.com/ The company appears to work closely with the towing industry, but also appears interested in supporting other stakeholders as well.]

    Jonsson’s article also notes the following:
    “After largely deregulating the towing industry in 1996, Congress tried to address the excesses starting in 2005, when a clause in the federal highway bill gave states and municipalities greater authority to oversee local towing practices.

    “That led to a tough new law in California that mandates large signage, no cash-only requirements, and no fee if a driver reaches the lot before the tow truck driver has left. A similar New York law went into effect in October, outlawing “kickbacks” from towing companies to property owners for allowing them to tow cars at will from their lots.”

  22. Kriss

    Thanks Jon and Jeff for staying on top of this problem. I hope Mountain Xpress continues to report what’s going on, as I feel it’s a very important issue for our community.

  23. cwaster

    Another “Allsafe” story. Recently my friend’s car was towed from the apartment building her boyfriend lives at. She was properly parked on their (the apartment complex’s) property.
    Apparently the lady up the street considers the parking space “hers” and called “allsafe” to tow my friend. They did- even though neither they nor the lady in question had the right to according to police.
    Something really, really needs to be done about this, and SOON. I’d love to see mountainx do an expose on them, and interview people who have been ripped off.

  24. Driver

    To the Citizens and Vistors of Asheville A word of advise is look where you Park. If you don’t have a pass to park , then park where there is no signs. I road over Asheville and all the places people say their getting towed id POSTED With BIG SIGN. WHICH MEANS YOU PARK WHERE YOUR NOT SUPPOSE TOO THEN IT’S YOUR FAULT YOUR VECHICLE GOING TO GET TOWED.

  25. Kriss

    Driver, if you’ll notice the blog above, upon which all these comments are based, the issue is not people parking where they are “not suppose too,” but vehicles getting towed when they are not supposed to. The police verified this was going on by a clever sting operation, and obviously – based on many complaints – many unlucky vehicle owners have been victims of the same illegal or unfair predatory towing as well.

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