PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After an 18-month grand jury investigation, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced charges on Wednesday against the owners of a North Philadelphia tow company for alleged illegal practices.
Prosecutors say the owners of Hooked Inc. on Westmoreland St., Dwight Williams and Joseph Moreno, illegally solicited drivers immediately after an accident and pressured them to sign blank tow slips. They later gouged them with high fees, holding the victim’s car hostage until insurance companies paid up.
“Hooked Inc. wanted cash only for the vehicle- which is a recurring theme- they wanted, cash, cash, cash,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. The charges against Hooked Inc. include deceptive business practices, as well as multiple counts of insurance fraud and theft by deception and conspiracy connected to four incidents.
One example involved a Hooked Inc. operator approaching a victim while she was in an ambulance after an accident in Roxborough. She did not call for a tow, yet the operator person pressured the woman to sign a blank tow slip to move her car off the road. Later on, Hooked Inc. allegedly charged a myriad of fees and billed the victim’s insurance company more than $1,200.
“They concocted a scheme to deceive many victims, circumvent the city’s rotational towing program and insurance fraud,” said Krasner.
“What they do is they tell the chasers– don’t fill out any charges on this tow bill,” said Dawn Holtz, the assistant district attorney who runs the economic and cyber crimes unit. She says the scheme likely brought in millions to Hooked Inc. It was discovered over the course of years, after citizens complained about unreasonable tows prices ranging from $500 to $2,000. The charges came in spite of the city’s $175 tow and $25 daily storage cap on fees.
“One company paid out $3 million dollars to one lot in three years,’ says Holtz, “Don’t allow yourself to be solicited by these chasers.”
Holtz says charges against other tow companies could be coming. Williams and Moreno turned themselves in on March 19. Their next hearing is April 29. A person at Hooked Inc. declined to comment.