Wilmington issues cease and desist order against National Auto Movers after WDEL exposes illegal tow
Amy Cherry - WDEL
National Auto Movers has officially been ordered to stop towing cars from public property in the City of Wilmington after WDEL uncovered at least two instances of illegal towing from public property.
A third instance of illegal towing from outside a hotel embroiled in the current issues was also reported.
A cease and desist order issued by City Solicitor Robert Groff, obtained by WDEL, informs the towing company that only Wilmington Police and city officials--including the city's authorized tower--have permission to remove a vehicle from a public street for violating parking or traffic laws. The city's authorized towing company is City Towing Services, LLC.
Mayor Mike Purzycki said the city would help victims whose cars were illegally towed obtain their cars or assist them in getting refunds for payments to National Auto Movers, in excess of $400 in some cases.
“Whether this improper towing occurred through ignorance of the law, negligence, or was intentional, it will stop now or the city will take further legal action,” said Purzycki.
Purzycki added: "The towing company should also apologize to the vehicle owners for the inconvenience caused by its actions."
WDEL has learned National Auto Movers was also apparently towing in Wilmington without a city-issued business license. In the days after WDEL's stories were published, the company officially applied for a proper business license. That license was issued and is in the mail, according to city officials.
In January, Dominique Grant's car was illegally towed from public property in front of the Queen Theatre by National Auto Movers. Grant was legally parked in an area marked as a loading zone "except Saturday and Sunday." Her car was towed on a Saturday. Her Honda remains impounded after she pursued legal action against National Auto Movers. She's seeking $8,000 in damages.
A week later, WDEL exposed a second instance of illegal towing from out front of the Marriott Residence Inn on the 1300 block of North Market Street. Matt Lenzini, of Bear, received his vehicle back from National Auto Movers free-of-charge, after WDEL's story was published.
The city learned, through its public works call center, that a third car was also towed from in front of the Marriott Residence Inn. Unauthorized signs for "20 minute guest parking" outside the hotel had been erected, and WDEL brought this fact to the city's attention. Wilmington Public Works crews removed those signs Monday. It's unclear whether the Marriott will face fines in connection with the incident. The hotel never returned WDEL's requests for comment.
"The Queen and Residence Inn have also been informed that no business in the city may hire a towing company to tow a vehicle from public property," a written release from the city said.
That makes a written contract, dated January 15, 2020, between National Auto Movers and the Marriott Residence Inn null and void. National Auto Movers, through an attorney and prior to the cease and desist order, had told WDEL it would immediately stop towing vehicles from public property in the city.
"As a small business guy, he's just following instructions from the people that are employing him," said attorney Joseph Benson. "Marriott should have known the law; my guy drives a tow truck, he's not reading the law books."
Benson added the company was offering vehicles to be returned free of charge.
"We're trying to make it right," he said.
Anyone who believes their car was towed illegally from public property in Wilmington is asked to call the city's public works call center at 302.576.3878.
Vehicle owners who have information to support the fact that their vehicle was towed by National Auto Movers from a public street are asked to contact the City’s Public Works Call Center at 302.576.3878. Any moving company that has a question about towing a vehicle, or is unsure about whether to tow, should call the Wilmington Police Department non-emergency telephone line at 302.654.5151.
Here's the full text of the cease and desist order:
The City of Wilmington (“City”) has learned that National Auto Movers, LLC is responsible for the illegal removal of three (3) vehicles from City of Wilmington public roads at the request of private companies on January 19, 2020, January 27, 2020, and again on January 28, 2020. PLEASE BE ADVISED that only law enforcement officers and City officials have the authority to direct the removal of vehicles from City streets. Therefore, you are directed to CEASE AND DESIST ALL VEHICLE REMOVALS from City of Wilmington streets or public property unless you are requested to do so by the owner or by some other lawful user of the vehicle. Additionally, you are directed to refund all fees paid by vehicle owners for these unauthorized removals, and to release any vehicles in your possession to their owners without charge. The City is also aware that following the three incidents listed above, National Auto Movers, LLC applied for a City of Wilmington business license on January 30, 2020. City Code requires that all organizations obtain a City of Wilmington business license prior to engaging in any business, profession, pursuit or calling. (Wilmington City Code, Section 5-34) Conducting business within the City without a License is considered a criminal misdemeanor under City Code and may be prosecuted by the City’s Law Department. You are therefore directed not to engage in your towing business within the corporate limits of Wilmington unless and until you have been granted a license to do so. Nothing in this letter should be interpreted as limiting National Auto Movers’ ability to undertake vehicle towing services within the City of Wilmington following the issuance of its business license. If you are unsure about a request to remove a vehicle you may contact the Wilmington Police non-emergency line at 302.654.5151.
Anyone who believes they were illegally towed from public property in Wilmington by National Auto Movers is also asked to call WDEL at 302.478.8898.