Philly towing firm agrees to pay for illegally impounding cars

In front of George Smith Towing, Meredith Cohen describes how her car was illegally towed last fall. JAMES BLOCKER / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Monday said a Philadelphia towing company had agreed to repay 28 people whose cars it illegally towed.

At a news conference, Shapiro said an investigation by the Bureau of Consumer Protection found that the drivers had their cars illegally towed by the George Smith towing company from various locations in the city, each having to pay $205 to get their cars back. The actions violated the state’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the Towing and Towing Storage Facility Standards Act, and Philadelphia’s towing ordinance.

Under a settlement, Shapiro said, the company and its owner, Anthony D’Angelo, agreed to pay $5,756 in restitution to the 28 victims, $5,000 in civil damages, and $3,000 for the cost of the investigation.

“Parking in the city is hard enough without the threat of your car being illegally towed,” Shapiro said. “This settlement is about protecting consumers from illegal conduct — and getting them restitution.”

One such victim, Meredith Cohen, 20, described her experience as she stood alongside Shapiro in front of the company on 61st Street in Southwest Philadelphia. Cohen, a Temple University student, said her Volkswagen Jetta had been parked in a lot for 10 minutes on North Broad Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue last October when she returned to find it gone.

“I did not see any signs warning consumers about the risk of being towed, and when I attempted to retrieve my car from George Smith Towing, my boyfriend and I were treated horribly by the workers,” Cohen said. “The workers informed me that they were going to hold my car for days because I called the police.”

Shapiro said Cohen “represents Philadelphians who get scammed each and every day, who we go to bat for.” He said that under the settlement, the company agreed that it would not violate the law in the future.

When questioned by reporters why company officials were not charged or had their licenses revoked, Shapiro said the investigation did not find evidence to support criminal charges.

“What we found was they violated the civil laws,” he said. “We are holding them accountable as part of the settlement: getting everyone their money back, making sure that those civil penalties are paid.”

He said this settlement could lead his office to uncover other “tow scams” as a result of victims’ contacting his office at 1-800-441-2555 or scams@attorneygeneral.gov. Complaints can also be sent to www.attorneygeneral.gov/submit-a-complaint. The deadline to file a complaint against Smith Towing is April 29, he said.

A Smith employee who watched the news conference from the building declined to comment. A woman who answered the phone at the company also said it would have no comment.