Cedar Towing under police investigation

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2011 - 10:01 AM

The Minneapolis tow-truck operator faces allegations of overcharges that could amount to $100,000 this year alone.

The largest tow-truck operator in Minneapolis is under a police investigation on allegations that it overcharged vehicle owners and improperly allowed its own employee to authorize tows from private property.

The practices of Cedar Towing & Auction, at 359 Hoover St. NE., raised enough concern among city licensing staff that inspector Rich Tuffs turned the case over to the Minneapolis police. The alleged overcharges could amount to $100,000 this year alone, according to a court document. Tuff's findings are detailed in a search warrant filed in Hennepin County District Court by Minneapolis police Sgt. Daniel Pommerenke. Records show Pommerenke used the warrant on Oct. 18 to gather two boxes of employee records and a digital record of all tows this year from Cedar Towing. A police spokesman said the case remains under investigation.

A woman at Cedar Towing's office on Thursday said the company had no comment.

The investigation isn't the first time the company has faced questions about its practices. In 2008, Cedar Towing agreed to pay $1,341 in fines after Tuffs issued 12 citations for failing to fill out tow-authorization forms and 12 citations for leaving towed vehicles at unsecured sites. The company also agreed that it would not use a company employee to authorize tows from private property. The agreement was signed by Cedar's vice president, Thomas Rodrigue.

Rodrigue is named in the search warrant as one of four people associated with Cedar Towing, along with President Julie Rodrigue, Cassandra Rodrigue and Tamara Rodrigue.

Cedar is one of five tow companies licensed to operate in Minneapolis. The city determines the amount a tow operator may charge for towing vehicles from private property and storing them at the towing company's lot, currently $207 for the tow and $27 a day for storage.

After hearing reports about improper charges, Tuffs visited Cedar Towing in August to conduct a spot inspection of 10 recent tows, according to the warrant. He found that paperwork was not available for two of the tows and that the remaining eight tows were charged the $27 storage fee for the first day a vehicle was towed into Cedar Towing's storage lot. That would be a violation of the city ordinance that says storage fees do not begin for towed vehicles until the day after they are towed.

As of the time of Tuffs' investigation in late August, Cedar Towing had towed 3,640 vehicles this year within Minneapolis, according to the warrant. In the warrant, Tuffs estimated that illegal storage charges could amount to $100,000.

Tuffs found that five of the eight tows for which he had paperwork were signed by Thomas Mudek, who Tuffs said is an employee of Cedar Towing. It's illegal, however, for a tow-company employee to sign tow-authorization forms when towing vehicles from private property.

City ordinances require a private property owner, the operator of a parking lot or their representative to sign the authorization forms.

Mudek, reached on Wednesday, said he last worked for Cedar Towing in 2001. He's now paid by private-property owners to monitor their lots for illegally parked vehicles, he said. He calls Cedar Towing, or whoever has the towing contract for the lot, when he sees an illegally parked vehicle.

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