WILKES-BARRE – City officials are investigating complaints received from about 10 people who allege the city's tower charged them fees to reclaim stolen vehicles, despite terms in the company's contract that forbid it from charging crime victims, administrative coordinator Drew McLaughlin said Wednesday.
The complaints come days after news media reports involving an 82-year-old city woman who was reportedly told by Leo Glodzik III, the owner of LAG Towing Inc., that she would have to pay $1,700 to reclaim her car, which had been stolen in December.
McLaughlin said the city is investigating each case, but has not yet gathered all necessary records and cannot say whether Glodzik did anything wrong.
We have not found anything to exonerate him or to say that the complaints are valid, McLaughlin said. The contract clearly states that victims of a crime will not be charged. Disciplinary action could be undertaken if that was violated.
Glodzik did not return a phone message left on his cellphone Wednesday seeking comment on the complaints.
Charlotte and Bryan Schmidt, of Wilkes-Barre, are among the people who claim they were improperly charged.
In an interview Wednesday, the Schmidts said Glodzik required them to pay $245 to reclaim their vehicle that was stolen in September 2010. Bryan Schmidt said he questioned the fees at the time because a police officer told him there would be no charge. When he told Glodzik that, he allegedly said, That's not the way it works.
Schmidt did not question it any further or complain to city officials, he said, because he felt there was some misunderstanding between the officer and LAG regarding the towing policy.
He didn't realize he should not have been charged until Tuesday, when he read newspaper articles that mentioned LAG's contract precluded him from charging crime victims.
I'm pretty aggravated, Schmidt said. I'd love to know how to recover the money I paid. If it's not something he should have received, he should refund people their money.
Glodzik has come under fire in recent days after it was reported he told Natalie Aleo, 82, of Wilkes-Barre, that she would have to pay $1,700 to reclaim her car that was stolen on Dec. 10.
Aleo did not pay any money, instead opting to sign over the car title to Glodzik after he told her the car was inoperable.
City Council Vice President Tony George has said Aleo's case concerned him because she should never have been told she owed money. He believes that might have played a role in her decision to sign over the title to her car.
In the Schmidts' case, their 2006 Chrysler minivan was stolen on Sept. 25, 2010 from the parking lot of the City Heights apartment complex on North Sherman Street, they said.
The car was recovered on Park Avenue about four hours after they reported it stolen, said Bryan Schmidt. They immediately went to LAG's lot on Carey Avenue in Wilkes-Barre to reclaim it and were told they owed $145 for the tow and $100 for storage, he said.
Schmidt said he questioned the storage charge, given the car was there only four hours.
You pick a vehicle up and charge $145 to tow it two miles to your place, and you charge $100 for it to sit there for four hours? It's a little exorbitant, he said.
Schmidt paid the bill because he felt he had no choice. I had to go to work, he said. Do I pay $245 to get it back, or let it sit there and let the bank take it and figure out how to get back and forth to work?
McLaughlin said city officials were unable to immediately confirm the Schmidts' claims because police reports in 2010 were not computerized. An officer must hand search paper reports, which could not be done by the end of the business day.
A news article published on Sept. 26, 2010 confirms that the Schmidts' car, which was registered to a relative, Annette Kostelnick, was reported stolen the day before.
McLaughlin said all complaints will be investigated. If the city finds any of them to be valid, it will undertake a comprehensive review to determine if other vehicle owners, including those who have not come forward, might have been improperly charged.
We will take a proactive approach and will look at other categories to make sure nothing improper was done, he said. If something was done improperly, we want to correct it.