DENVER — When Colorado legislators passed the Towing Bill of Rights in 2022, it was supposed to address problems in the towing industry and protect the public. But consumer advocates, lawmakers and Denver7's tip lines are seeing more towing complaints than ever.
Wyatts Towing, the largest towing company in the state, is the subject of many of those complaints. Public records show that Wyatts is part of a complicated web of companies linked by owners and locations, which are involved in multiple phases of car impounds: parking lot surveillance, towing and selling unclaimed cars at auction.
While still considered legal, some lawmakers and consumer advocates say changes are needed to protect consumers.
Spirit of the Law
State Sen. Julie Gonzales, D - Denver, thought she was following the rules when she parked her car in a Denver garage in August. A ParkM sign stated "Overnight guests parking by permit only."
"I didn’t think anything of it because I had no intention of staying overnight,” said Gonzales, who came back at 9:30 p.m. to find her car was gone. “There were three Wyatt's tow trucks. And so in a matter of minutes, my vehicle had been towed out from under me."
What she called unclear signage was only the start of her concerns.
At the impound lot, Gonzales requested to pay $60, or 15% under the payment installment plan, which is allowed under the new Towing Bill of Rights. But she said the woman in line ahead of her didn't know that was an option.
“You shouldn't have to be well-versed in the law because you wrote it in order to be able to vindicate your rights,” said Gonzales, a prime sponsor of the Towing Bill of Rights.
Her experience, she said, highlighted how a set of companies that share common ownership are working together in the process of impounding cars.
"This business model I find to be deeply problematic," Gonzales said. “By not being clear with people about the signage, and not being clear in offering people at the moment that they come to pick up their cars, I think that Wyatts technically followed the letter of the law. But I absolutely believe that they violated the spirit of the law.”
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The Community Economic Defense Project has long said towing in Colorado is out of control. But Wyatts Towing's name came up more often than most, said policy head Melissa Mejia.
"I think if you live in the Denver metro area, you would recognize their signs," Mejia said. "They're everywhere.”
Towing Holdings LLC is listed as the trade name for nearly a dozen towing brands across the Front Range, including Wyatts Towing, Southwest Auto Tow, Summit Vehicle Solutions, Capital Tow, Boulder Valley Towing and Klaus Towing.
The connections between the companies are complex, but from ParkM to Wyatts Towing to Peak Auto Auctions, public records and LinkedIn profiles show the three Ts — Tony Porras, Troy Porras, and Tevor Forbes — are linked to multiple aspects of the towing process, from parking lot surveillance and permitting, to towing to selling cars that have been towed. The practice is called vertical integration.
"Vertical integration essentially means that this one company, this one group of people has an interest in every stage of a particular industry," said Mejia.
Legislators tried to prevent tow operators from authorizing their own tows in the Towing Bill of Rights by requiring the property owner or their agent to sign off on tows, Gonzales said.
In the case of Gonzales' tow, ParkM and Wyatts were both contracted to enforce overnight parking in that lot. ParkM’s articles of organizationshow one of the three Ts, Troy Porras, formed the company. He also formed Wyatts Towing. The same address is listed for both companies.
“This hand says, ‘We give you authorization to tow.' And this hand says, 'Great, we're now going to tow that vehicle,’” Gonzales said. “That type of vertical integration is exactly what we sought to prohibit with our Colorado Towing Bill of Rights in 2022 on a bipartisan basis.”
If people don't recover their towed cars, Wyatts sells the cars through Peak Auto Auctions, an online auction platform that is listed at the same address as Wyatts Towing, public records show.
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As the complaints against Wyatts roll in following the Towing Bill of Rights, a new issue emerged.
Video obtained by Denver7 Investigates shows instead of releasing cars for the $60 or 15% payment plan allowed by law, Wyatts was asking customers to apply for loans with interest to receive a payment plan. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said that goes against the law.
"You shouldn't have to be a state senator or lawyer or some fancy person who can advocate for yourself to get the rights that everyone should get,” said Weiser.
The attorney general confirmed his office is investigating Wyatts after receiving complaints about unclear signage, improper tows and harsh treatment of customers.
“What we can say is we're going to do a thorough, full and fair investigation,” Weiser said. "And as the end result, we can either take action against Wyatts and/or we can conclude if there are holes in the law that don't protect people, we need to fix them."
Regarding the loans, Wyatts attorney Jason Dunn wrote that the legislation was not clear on how companies should recover the money for payment plans. He said the company never collected interest from anyone and stopped having people fill out loan forms after a letter from the attorney general stated that loans were illegal.
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Through Dunn, Wyatts and its partners declined an on-camera interview, but wrote in an email, "ParkM, Peak Auto Auctions, and Cars Direct are independently managed businesses with broad operations largely unrelated to Wyatts Towing."
At a legislative committee hearing last year, Wyatts Towing CEO Trevor Forbes downplayed the relevance of his business connections but acknowledged the vertical integration.
“It is true that we own those businesses. I am having a hard time finding the nefarious connection that is made between those," he said. "Like many businesses, we have acquired some others. We have some in Texas, as well. We have a slight amount of vertical integration."
In the emailed statement, Dunn wrote, "The implication made by advocacy groups that these businesses are working together to take advantage of consumers is wholly incorrect."
Dunn said Colorado’s towing industry is already one of the most heavily regulated in the country, and Wyatts “sets the industry standard.” Gonzales believes that is a problem after her tow was refunded.
Wyatts’ attorney said they refunded Gonzales' tow as a courtesy, and records show the Public Utilities Commission found no violation.
"I wasn't the only person who was refunded that evening. It was an incorrect tow," Gonzales said, adding her experience suggests more work needs to be done to protect Coloradans.
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The state senator is putting together a team to work on new towing legislation, which includes State Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, D - Larimer.
"It's clear that there is just a fundamental divide in recognizing the seriousness of the problem," said Boesenecker. "I think what has happened is they've really avoided a lot of the intent of the Towing Bill of Rights."
Lawmakers are scheduled to discuss towing regulations in the Transportation Legislation Review Committee on Tuesday.
“I'm not alone in wanting to further hold towing operators to account and to prevent this type of vertical integration from happening as a business practice,” said Gonzales. “I feel like we're playing a game of whack-a-mole. So if we need to go back this upcoming legislative session, we're happy to do that."