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Mill Avenue Jack in the Box tows cars

by Not owner Adel Farag Sunday, Sep. 22, 2013 at 2:41 PM

For years the Jack in the Box on Mill Avenue in Tempe between 7th Street and University has been towing cars and ransoming them back to their owners

The Jack in the Box on Mill Avenue and between 7th Street and University Drive in Tempe for at least the last 10 years and probably a lot longer has had a reputation for towing cars and ransoming them back to their owners. I don't know if the reputation is deserved or not.

I have heard rumors that Adel Farag, the owner of the Jack in the Box is a Tempe cop or ex-cop. I don't know if the rumors are true.

In this article, Adel Farag denies that he knows his Jack in the Box has a reputation for hijacking cars that park illegally there. I find that very hard to believe. But who knows maybe he is telling the truth???

Over the years I have seen several cars in the process of being towed from the Jack in the Box as I was hanging out on Mill Avenue in Tempe.

Yea, I know, people shouldn't be illegally parking on his lot. Well that goes both ways. Just because you illegally park on his lot doesn't give him the right to steal your car. Well that's assuming he is doing all the nasty things in this article.

He might be telling the truth. I don't know.


Call 12: Tow firm conduct raises questions

By Robert Anglen and Lauren Maxwell The Republic | Sat Sep 21, 2013 7:13 PM

One late Saturday night, outside a Phoenix tow yard on an isolated industrial strip near downtown, three vehicle owners stood in front of a chain-link fence demanding access to their cars.

Tow-company employees told owners they must pay 5 apiece before even being allowed to see their cars. Owners balked. The dispute escalated. Shouts were exchanged. Police were called.

The scene at Monster Impound and Recovery this month was the latest incident involving a company with a history of consumer complaints, police investigations and allegations that cars are held for ransom until owners pay a fine.

Consumer complaints against tow companies are universal. No drivers are going to be elated after returning to their vehicle and finding only an empty spot.

But issues with Monster involve multiple allegations of misconduct that are underscored by police reports from Phoenix, Tempe and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Claims that Monster illegally holds cars led Tempe police to cite two tow-truck drivers. Monster’s operating license was suspended by the Department of Public Safety this year over maintenance issues and its failure to comply with federal operating laws. And nearly every other week, Phoenix police respond to calls at the tow yard.

Phoenix police officers have been called to the tow yard at Ninth Street and East Broadway Road 23 times in the past year to settle disputes between tow employees and vehicle owners who say their cars are being illegally held.

“I’ve had my car towed before, but I have never been told I can’t see my car,” Brandon Cottingham, 24, said. “I don’t know how they could get away with this.”

Monster owner David Sweetman of Gilbert disputes any claims of wrongdoing. He said owners don’t want to pay legal fines and that police officers are wrongly targeting his business.

“I’m tired of you coming down here and harassing my employees,” Sweetman told officers outside of the tow yard this month. “What you’re doing is illegal.”

Sweetman later accused the police department of “corruption” and said officers allow vehicle owners to leave without paying fines.

State law prohibits tow-truck companies and related businesses from denying owners access to their vehicles. Requiring someone to pay a fine before allowing them to drive away is called “theft of means of transportation,” according to Phoenix Police Sgt. Trent Crump.

Crump said that tow owners have other means to force drivers to pay towing fees, including placing liens on vehicles and hiring collection agencies to go after unpaid debts.

“Phoenix Police Department is not initiating this contact,” Crump said, indicating that officers are only explaining the law and trying to resolve disputes. “Our role is in keeping the peace.”

A ‘hot spot’?

Complaints against Monster date back more than five years, with vehicle owners saying Monster operates “hot spots” where drivers are checked by tow-truck operators looking for a quick hookup.

One such spot is a Jack in the Box in downtown Tempe, where cars are frequently towed less than 30 minutes after owners say they left them.

Cottingham and the two other vehicle owners all had parked at the Jack in the Box. One driver said he went inside to use the restroom and to buy a hamburger. When he came out, he said, his car was gone.

Although the cars were towed at different times during the day, the owners had to make appointments to pick up their cars. All said they were told by the company that the cars would not be released until after 10:30 p.m., which required them to pay a storage fee and an after-hours fee.

The drivers were charged 0 to be towed from Tempe, a day for storage and for after-hours.

Breana Lepowsky, 21, said her car was towed around 5 p.m. when she parked at the Jack in the Box to go to her job at the Casa Sunbar on Mill Avenue. She acknowledged that she was not a Jack in the Box customer.

But when she arrived at Monster Towing with her father, Richard Lepowsky, Breana said she wasn’t allowed to access her car until she handed over 5.

Breana said before she paid the tow fine, she wanted to make sure that her car hadn’t been damaged and that her laptop computer was still inside where she left it.

Jonathon Rines, 37, of Laveen, said the same thing happened to him earlier this year after parking illegally at the Jack in the Box.

“When we came out, we were very shocked our car was gone. My wife went into the Jack in the Box and said what happened to us and (an employee) said, ‘Well, it was probably towed.’ ”

Rines was told to pay 0 to get his car from Monster’s yard. Rines agreed to the fine but said that when he went to retrieve his car he found it damaged. He said Monster employees refused to take responsibility and he called police.

Jack in the Box owner Adel Farag said he has a verbal contract with Monster to enforce parking at the restaurant. He said he was unaware of the number of customer complaints or police activity associated with the company. [That sounds like a lie!!! For years Jack in the Box has been towing cars that park on their lot illegally for longer then a few microseconds. I find it impossible to believe that owner Adel Farag doesn't know about his reputation for towing cars]

After learning more about the situation, Farag said he was concerned about Monster’s record and stressed that he wants to ensure the company operates in an ethical manner. If he determines there are problems, he said, he can easily contract with another towing company.

Farag said he has no connection with Sweetman, other than meeting with him three times a year to discuss issues that might come up, including drivers’ conduct.

Employees use video surveillance to ensure that no customers are towed, but Farag admitted that has happened a couple of times in the past five years.

“I’m certainly open to the possibility of changing towing companies,” Farag said.

An ‘F’ rating

Monster is the subject of dozens of complaints on consumer-protection websites. The Better Business Bureau gives Monster an “F’ rating, its lowest, for failure to respond to customer complaints. Officials with the BBB in Arizona said there have been more than 50 inquiries about the company in the past 30 days.

And it might not be a coincidence that Jack in the Box is a Monster hot spot.

State corporation records show Sweetman owns a former Internet cafe turned coffee shop in the adjacent parking lot, where customers also warn about the risk of being towed.

“The Fixx (coffee shop) is basically a front for a towing scam. Please don’t patronize this business,” Donovan T. of Mesa said in an online post in Yelp.

In addition to running the tow company, corporation records show Sweetman also served as the director of a Scottsdale company called Arizona Medical Marijuana Caregivers, which went out of business last year.

Sweetman would not answer specific questions about his businesses. He blamed Phoenix police for problems, saying officers are targeting his business and trying to intimidate the employees.

“All I’m asking for is objectivity, not subjectivity,” he said.

Records show Sweetman has had multiple run-ins with police, both professionally and personally.

Court records show Sweetman was arrested in April on unlawful-imprisonment and assault charges. He was convicted of disorderly conduct in 2008. He has also been hit with several traffic violations, records show.

The Department of Public Safety this year suspended Sweetman’s operating license and fined him ,000 over violations on two of his heavy-duty tow trucks.

Officers said Monster failed to keep maintenance logs required under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules. They said Monster trucks were stopped for multiple traffic violations.

Tempe police confirmed last week that city prosecutors charged two Monster drivers for refusing to allow owners access to their cars before paying fines. The disposition of those cases is unclear.

Tempe police spokesman Steven Carbajal also confirmed last week the department is investigating Monster for an alleged violation of the city’s towing ordinance.

‘I panicked’

Home-health nurse Kathie Bright, 40, of Mesa, said she paid about 0 to regain access to her car after it was towed from a Mesa apartment where she was treating a patient.

She said she was in the patient’s residence for about 45 minutes when she came out and found her car gone.

“They told me that if I didn’t pay, I wouldn’t get my car back,” Bright said. “I panicked ... all of my patient files were in the car. All of my medical supplies.”

Bright said she was parked in a legal spot when her car was towed. But Monster employees told her she had illegally backed into the spot.

Bright said there were no signs posted anywhere near the car where she was parked. But later she went back and found a single sign posted at a separate entrance to the complex.

“They would only take cash. We had to go to an ATM, and then they wouldn’t let us go in the office,” Bright said.

Monster manager Mike Riley said last week that the company is doing nothing illegal. He defended the towing operation as legitimate.

“No one ever reads the signs until after they get towed,” he said, adding that the towing is not “the happiest business in the world, but it’s a necessary evil.”

He said Phoenix police officers step over the line by telling customers they don’t have to pay to retrieve their cars.

“Police officers tell these kids they don’t have to pay, as a personal vendetta against our company, but they’re setting the kids up for failure,” he said. “We turn it over to collections and then the kids end up paying 0 instead of 0.”

Crump, of Phoenix police, pointed out that the department never received an official complaint from anyone at Monster.

“We welcome anyone who wants to make a specific complaint about officers to come forward,” he said. “That has not occurred.”

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