Continuing a campaign against predatory towing in Los Angeles, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo announced Friday that the president of a company and an associate have pleaded no contest to charges that they broke the law in seizing vehicles and demanding payments on the street.
The case against the president of Quick Lift Towing and an associate was built from a sting operation by the Los Angeles Police Department in which a tow truck driver put an undercover police car on the truck's rack and a representative of the firm demanded $180 to release the vehicle immediately.
"These individuals, through Quick Lift Tow, sought to make money through intimidation and abuse of their perceived authority," Delgadillo said, standing in front of the Barnsdall Square Shopping Center in Hollywood, where some of the towing incidents occurred.
Peggy Holter appeared with the city attorney and described how her car was hoisted by a Quick Lift truck when she went into a store for coffee.
"The driver demanded I pay him $120 in cash, on the spot in order to have my car lowered, which I did, having no choice. It was late, and I was miles from home," Holter said.
State law requires tow truck drivers to release vehicles without charge if the owner approaches them when they have the vehicle lifted with their truck but before they leave the parking lot, said Lt. Andre Dawson, commanding officer of the LAPD's Commission Investigation Division.
One man jumped into his car after it was lifted on a truck, and the tow truck driver towed the car across the street to an ATM where the motorist had to withdraw and pay $180 to get his car back, the city attorney said.
William Edwards, who had authority from Quick Lift to arrange tows, was caught on the LAPD tape ordering the tow of an undercover police vehicle, and allegedly caused the unlawful towing of other vehicles from the shopping center. He pleaded no contest to two counts of unlawful taking of a vehicle and three counts of vehicle tampering.
Edwards got 36 months of summary probation and was ordered to serve 120 days in jail or perform 90 days of state Department of Transportation work or 800 hours of community service.
The company's president, Haim David Abergel, pleaded no contest to one count of unlawful taking of a vehicle and one count of vehicle tampering and was ordered to pay $2,750 restitution to 19 victims.
Abergel did not return calls for comment Friday.
Delgadillo said Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin ordered Abergel to obey specified conditions of probation that will ensure compliance with towing laws -- including limits on the charges that may legally be imposed -- and said any future problem could trigger a violation of probation, with stiffer penalties.