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The Truth Behind The Tow: 'Chicago Stole My Car That Night'

By Dorothy Tucker, Carol Thompson

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chrissy Monaco visits a friend in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood often, so she's well aware of the sign warning of no overnight parking from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. on that block.

12AM to 8AM sign
No parking tow zone sign in the 400 block of N. McClurg Court (CBS Chicago)

"That's why I left at 11:15 p.m.," she said.

But, when she started to head home, her car was gone from the spot where she parked. That was at 471 N. McClurg Ct. She was all paid up at the meter until 11:33 p.m.

"It was 11:15 p.m. and my car is totally gone. So I start panicking," Monaco said.

She started calling private tow companies, noting that "11:27, I think, was my first call out to them" -- and then the city tow information line to find her car.

"There's still no proof of my car being towed," she said.

Ultimately, she called 911 to report her car stolen and then filed a police report. Monaco did all of those things before midnight when the "no parking, tow zone" rule took effect.

Where did she find her car?

"It was the Chicago tow and it's only about two blocks from here," she said.

That's right, it was in the City of Chicago Central Auto Pound, 400 E. Lower Wacker Dr. It's exactly half a mile from where her car was parked -- just a 2-minute drive, according to Google Maps. But she didn't locate her car until two hours after it was towed at 1:30 in the morning.

When she picked up her car later that day she got another surprise -- this one on her windshield.

"There was a ticket on my car saying that I was parked there illegally after midnight," she said.

Monaco says she was angry, because "the ticket itself says that the issue date was 12/06 which is Monday not Sunday night, and that the time of violation is 12:30." She said this happened "even though I was already towed" by 11:15 -- 45 minutes before midnight -- when she left her friend's place to go home.

How Did This Happen?

So, how did Monaco get ticketed and towed in the first place?

The CBS 2 Investigators sent several emails to various city departments, asking about the improper tow and the handwritten ticket.

The Department of Finance sent us to the Chicago Police Department. CPD never responded. But, we did hear back from the Department of Streets and Sanitation and received a confession. They admitted that their "tow truck driver towed the vehicle in error."

DSS Tow Truck
City of Chicago Tow Truck at Central Auto Pound (CBS Chicago)

And, the handwritten parking ticket with the 12:30 a.m. time for violating the overnight parking ban? All made up.

ticket pic
Ticket Written in Error per Dept. of Streets & Sanitation

"I was just upset," said Monaco. "It's just proof that Chicago stole my car that night."

We spoke with experts who told us there are digital handheld devices that generate parking tickets. Those would not allow for mistakes like the handwritten errors in Monaco's case. The tickets automatically time and location stamp the tickets and often include pictures.

Handwritten Tickets

The Department of Finance (DOF) provided us figures detailing how many device-generated parking tickets versus handwritten tickets were issued in Chicago in 2021 -- more than 1.8 million parking tickets combined. More than 388,000 of those were written by hand, mostly by CPD enforcement officers who still use ticket books.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation added that of those 388,000+ handwritten tickets, more than 23,000 were written by city tow truck drivers. Streets and San calls incidents like Monaco's bogus ticket and wrong tow a "rare occurrence."

One week after she found her car at the city auto pound, Monaco contested the ticket in court, "because I knew it was not my fault," she said.

She won. She got the ticket tossed with a promise to be refunded $175 for the tow and storage fee she had to pay to get her car back. That decision came on Dec. 13, 2021. But somehow, the ticket got resurrected and sent to her again in January with a reminder in mid-February.

A DOF spokesperson told us how Monaco's dismissed ticket came back to life: "The handwritten ticket had not yet been scanned into the system prior to its dismissal. The Ticket was scanned into the system on 1/4/2022."

That was three weeks after Monaco contested that ticket and won.

The DOF goes on to say "Since the ticket was not paid, or contested, a notice of violation was mailed on 1/15/2022. No response or calls were received from the motorist, thus, a notice of determination was mailed on 2/12/2022."

What's Next?

A Streets and Sanitation spokesperson added that the department is "in the process of moving to a digital system to track towed vehicles." That would speed up the process of finding a towed car. Streets and San added it "will review the potential to use a digital system for DSS tickets." The tow tracking digital system is expected to be up and running in early 2023.

During the period Monaco received the dismissed ticket again and again, she was also still waiting for her refund check. It was issued on 2/15/2022 after we started asking the city about her case.

The CBS 2 Investigators are still awaiting public records requests we've sent to the city to help determine how many other drivers, like Monaco, have been wrongly towed.

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