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Tow Company Refunds Money, Says 'Mistakes Are Made'

DENVER (CBS4) - A Denver towing company that has been the target of numerous complaints to the state Public Utilities Commission and the Better Business Bureau has refunded tow fees to a Denver woman after the company indicated it may have mistakenly towed the woman's car and refused to release it until she paid nearly $300 in towing fees.

"I feel like they really did, at the root of it, steal my car," said Sandi Heller. "I feel like my car was stolen because I didn't do anything wrong."

On the night of Feb. 11 she parked in a private lot along East Colfax Avenue and paid the attendant $15 so she and her children could go to a Marilyn Manson concert at the nearby Fillmore Theater. She said the attendant then placed the parking ticket on her dashboard.

"He like reached around and put it on the dash. He placed it on the dashboard himself," Heller said. "It was an awesome show, it was great."

But when she returned to the lot after the show, her car was gone. She quickly learned Lone Star Towing -- which patrols the lot for illegal parkers -- had towed away her Hyundai.

Late that night Heller made her way to Lone Star's Denver lot to reclaim her car. She said a Lone Star employee opened her car door and spotted the parking ticket she paid for on the floor of her car. She thought they would realize their mistake and allow her to drive home with no charge. She was wrong.

"He was like, 'No you don't, you have to pay for this.' "

(credit: CBS)

Heller said she was irate but the company refused to release her car unless she paid for it, even though she had clearly paid to park.

After forking over close to $300 she filed complaints with the Public Utilities Commission and the Better Business Bureau.

Troy Porras, the owner of Lone Star Towing, said as soon as he heard about what happened and researched the situation he agreed to refund Heller's money.

Porras declined to speak with CBS4 on camera but wrote that, "Ms. Heller does seem to have a legitimate complaint. We tow thousands of cars from hundreds of different properties and certainly mistakes are made from time to time, both by us and by others. I do not have any reason to doubt she paid, but what I am certain of is that the parking ticket was not visible in the dashboard when the person called the tow in or when the driver towed the car. We simply would not have towed it if the ticket would have been visible."

Porras wrote that, "The system of the parking guys putting the ticket on the dash obviously is not perfect, but it works almost all of the time."

Asked why the woman wasn't given her car back with no charge when the ticket was found on the floor of the car, Porras explained, "The customer service representatives are only authorized to release a car at no charge when the permit is visible -- which means that we (the towing company) has made a mistake. I have heard a lot of stories, but hers struck me as legitimate. We are going to refund all of her towing fees."

Porras' various towing companies -- Lone Star, Wyatt's and Boulder Valley Towing -- typically get more complaints filed with the Public Utilities Commission than other tow companies. However, Porras maintains that's not an indication of bad business practices but a function of the fact his tow outfits do more volume than many other companies.

Despite the refund, Heller told CBS4 she feels that she was essentially robbed and abused.

"I don't understand how this is legal because they are randomly taking people's cars and then making up stuff later, holding their cars hostage until they pay a lot of money."

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

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