DETROIT (WXYZ) - A local towing company rakes in loads of cash towing cars from a local shopping center.
So, why is the owner having so much trouble paying his bills?
The 7 Action News Investigators first exposed questionable towing practices by Larson's Towing back in January after a slew of complaints from viewers who said they were unfairly towed.
Now, more complaints are coming in from folks who say they were stiffed by the company's owner.
In our earlier report, we told you how Larson's towing was getting complaints about heavy-handed tactics and towing innocent people from a Detroit shopping center. Now we're hearing from others who say owner Tom Larson is doing a businessman's version of the "dine and dash." He has a trail of unpaid bills.
One man says he was stiffed for $8,500. Another says Larson cheated him out of $1,800. A third man says Larson got him for $2,000. A former employee says Larson cheated him out of $600 for work that he did. They all say they think the towing contractor deliberately took advantage of them and they want him stopped before other's get burned.
"In conversations with other business that I know, ah, that's his M-O, that's just how he does it, that's his style of business. He looks for the smaller companies, and he just takes advantage of them," said Jeff Gayden, a small businessman who says Larson took him for $2,000.
Larson has made enemies with his towing practices too. His company has a contract to tow people who park illegally at a strip mall near the Detroit Medical Center. The company sends spotters out. As soon as they see someone they think is not a customer, they hook them and tow them away. When people find out what Larson's is charging, they hit the roof. Larson's charges $400 for the tow, cash only, and $60 for overnight storage if people don't pick their cars up by his 5 p.m. quitting time.
Our 7 Action News camera caught one angry man in the mall parking lot as he was talking on the telephone with Larson's and found out how much the charges were after his car was towed.
"Oh my god that is a rip off! I never heard of that. Why is it so much? I mean if it was $200, $300, it's $400?" the man asked incredulously.
Our investigation also uncovered several people who have proof that they were customers at the strip mall and they got towed anyway. Mark Haacke says he was towed while eating lunch at a restaurant. He has witnesses who put him in the restaurant at the time and he has a time-stamped receipt from the eatery.
"So I have quite concrete proof of exactly where I was for those 30 minutes," said Haacke.
Larson's has been towing cars from the strip mall, as many as eight or nine a day, for years.
Here's the $64,000 question: How can a guy be raking in that much cash, and not pay his bills?
That's what Alex Habhab would like to know.
"He was supposed to pay every Monday and he never did. Here we are two months later I'm out of the money," said Habhab.
Habhab says he sold Larson $1,800 worth of diesel fuel and never got a dime.
"He said I don't have it and I kept on calling him and then he started getting an attitude and started swearing at me," Habhab told 7 Action News.
Jeff Gayden says he did $2,000 worth of phone work for Larson and came in right on the button with his estimate.
"And he said ‘oops, that's too much, I'm not paying that, no way." I said "well you should have told us that before we started," Gayden said.
Then there's Jim Saxton. He did $8,500 worth on Larson's boat and his wrecker.
"Sometimes he'd tell us the check was there we could pick it up. Call me a little later. He'd never answer the calls after that," said Saxton.
Saxton got a lien and took possession of Larson's boat to recoup his money.
Others have had no luck collecting.
"I said okay, enough is enough, I took him to court. He never showed up to court. We won and now he's not even at his place of business," said Habhab.
Larson suddenly dropped out of site. We noticed his tow trucks were no longer trolling at the shopping center. And when we went to his business we discovered he'd been evicted. Court records say he was almost $12,000 behind in rent.
7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis tracked Larson down on the street and asked him about his sudden disappearance and string of unpaid bills.
"(I) Haven't seen your trucks down at the shopping center for a while, what's going on?" Lewis asked.
"We pulled out, Larson replied, So what?"
"Why did you pull out?" Lewis asked.
"We decided to pull out," Larson responded.
"Okay, no reason?" Lewis asked.
"Yea, I found out some of my employees were lying, thieving crooks," Larson replied.
Some former employees say just the opposite; that Larson never paid them for work they did at his towing company.
"I had to quit. I couldn't do it no more. I can't pay my bills if you're not paying me," said former tow truck driver Lyndon McCann.
Four other employees, including
a woman we saw spotting for Larson at the shopping mall during our earlier investigation, have filed claims with the state. They say they were cheated out of wages totaling nearly $8,000.
And what about the others who say they were stiffed, like the landlord who evicted Larson from the building where he operated his towing company?
"You owe him twelve grand," Lewis told Larson.
"No I don't," Larson responded.
"That's what it says in the court records," Lewis said.
"Well, you know what? Have a nice day sir," Larson said.
"Well you know what Tom, you owe a lot of people money," Lewis told Larson.
" Well good, have a nice day sir," Larson responded as he started walking away.
Lewis followed and continued peppering the towing contractor with questions about people who say they were stuck with unpaid bills.
"Three employees you didn't pay. How about the guy at ship shape? How about the Sunoco guy you owe eighteen hundred bucks," Lewis asked.
"Sir we're done, Larson snapped.
"Eighteen hundred bucks for diesel fuel," Lewis said.
"We're done sir," Larson repeated.
Larson might be done with the 7 Action News Investigators, but the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is not done with him. The agency is still investigating those claims of unpaid wages and has asked Larson to provide payroll records.
By the way, that boat that was taken from Larson because he didn't pay the repair shop was stored at Kean's Marina in Detroit. Kean's also has a $6,000 lien on Larson because he didn't pay them for his slip.
The 7 Action News Investigators also learned that Larson defaulted on a land contract on a condominium where he lived in Garden City. He moved to a home a short distance away and took out another land contract.
The owner of that home contacted The Investigators to report that Larson is now thousands of dollars behind on that land contract. The owner said he is proceeding with a foreclosure action.