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Not towing the line: Colorado regulators cite backlog, orders not to fine in towing complaints

Denver7 investigation prompts PUC response
tow truck
Posted at 12:13 AM, Nov 04, 2021

DENVER — Contact Denver7 has been exposing complaints of predatory towing in Colorado all year, starting with tow operators accused of targeting cars with expired plates during the pandemic.

But we soon found a broken system that does not always hold bad actors accountable. There's a backlog of towing complaints with the state and an order not to fine tow companies for violations.

Behind every car towed in Colorado, there is a towing company that is supposed to be regulated by the state.

When Contact Denver7 first started investigating the towing industry in Colorado, one towing operator kept popping up: Towing Done Right, also known as Park It Right, and owner Joel Perri

"He has found that niche where he can operate within the gray area and not have any responsibility or repercussion," said Jacob Perri, who previously worked for his now-estranged father. "I think he was going after people that couldn't pay the towing bills. The ones who were vulnerable in mobile home parks and apartment complexes. He doesn't care who he hurts, as long as at the end of the day he has money in his pocket then he's fine."

Earlier this year, two Colorado judges ruled Towing Done Right had illegally towed Dene Attaway's car, and she got it back. She said it was no thanks to state regulators.

"They did nothing," Attaway said. "There is some level of corruption, it seems, going on here."

The Public Utilities Commission enforces towing rules, but documents reveal a substantial backlog of investigations into Towing Done Right complaints.

In one email, a PUC supervisor points out "Channel 7 continues to showcase towing complaints, seemingly advocating on behalf of 'complainants.'" The supervisor then directs investigators to "get the backlog completed."

Nate Riley, the new transportation section chief for the Public Utilities Commission blames the backlog on a staffing shortage.

"Unfortunately, the investigations staff has seen some reductions over the past couple of years, so we're basically having to divvy up more cases amongst fewer staff," said Riley."So, that has led to a few difficulties."

Records reveal the backlog is not the only difficulty. Investigators wrote that they found "egregious" violations against Towing Done Right in 2019, but did not fine the company. Documents state "The PUC does not have the budget to prosecute cases, and the transportation section has been ordered to close all cases with a warning letter."

Riley said he did not issue that order.

"That, I’m assuming, would have been the previous chief. I've been the chief here for six months. So, this would have occurred prior to my time here in this position," Riley said.

He explained the problem was effectively addressed when the legislature created a legal services offset fund to pay for prosecution.

"I think it's unfortunate that we've been in situations in the past where we didn't have the funding to properly pursue civil penalties and what could be considered appropriate enforcement actions against carriers when violations had occurred," Riley said. "Unfortunately, that was the situation we were in."

Records show that Towing Done Right has been fined in another case for more than $1,200, and the company was also forced to issue refunds in numerous cases. Despite five warning letters from the PUC, however, Towing Done Right Still has its license.

Owner Joel Perri has not responded to multiple attempts to contact him for comment.

"There's a lot of money that is being made by the towing companies, and we just want to make sure it's reasonable," said Rep. Naquetta Ricks, D-Aurora.

She sponsored a towing law signed into law this year to beef up a towing task force.

Now, she and other lawmakers are working on towing reform 2.0, re-examining fees and towing contracts to put Colorado consumers first.

"We want them to know that we have their back, and we are taking action to crack down and to make it a fair experience when their car is towed," Ricks said.

Until then, Towing Done Right and other tow companies are still taking part in "non-consensual" tows, patrolling apartments and mobile home parks and making money off those who can least afford to pay it.

Editor's note: Denver7 seeks out audience tips and feedback to help people in need, resolve problems and hold the powerful accountable. If you know of a community need our call center could address, or have a story idea for our investigative team to pursue, please email us at contact7@thedenverchannel.com or call (720) 462-7777. Find more Contact Denver7 stories here.