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August 24, 2016

Are drivers in South Philly getting towed because of a parking scam?

Motorists Parking
alleged towing scam south philly Adam Malliet/For PhillyVoice

This photo shows Adam Malliet sitting atop his car in protest as a tow-truck operator attempts to haul it from a space on South Broad Street in July.

En route to band practice in South Philadelphia one evening in early July, Adam Malliet saw an open parking space on South Broad Street, near Alter Street. He pulled in, looked around for a “No Parking” sign, saw none, and went on his way to make some music.

Securing a primo, off-median parking spot in South Philly is usually a victory. On a Friday night — right near his destination, no less — it's a minor miracle. But Malliet’s night almost was ruined.

An hour later he stepped outside to find a tow truck hitched to front end of the Volkswagen hatchback he had borrowed for the night. He then saw the “no parking” sign, which he swears wasn’t there when he parked an hour before. The name of the towing company on the sign matched the name of the company on the truck.

No way, he thought.

After watching a Facebook video that went viral Tuesday evening, Malliet now believes he was caught in a parking scam allegedly masterminded by the towing company.

Just like what had happened to Malliet, the video's author alleged the company’s tow sign mysteriously had appeared above an unsuspecting motorist's vehicle after it has parked in the space, thinking it fair game.

And the video recorded the alleged scheme taking place in the exact same parking space where Malliet had parked his car back in July.

“Anyone could have gone down to Kinko’s and made that sign,” Malliet recalled telling the tow truck driver, peppering in a few expletives for good measure.

After being confronted by Malliet, the tow-truck driver offered little sympathy, but Malliet wasn’t going to go away without a standoff, at least. He called the police and then climbed onto the roof of his car.

“There is someone stealing my car,” Malliet told the 911 operator. “Someone is stealing my car, right now.”

He eventually toned it down, explained the scene to the dispatcher and then told the tow-truck driver that he wasn’t getting off the roof until police arrived to confirm that the towing company was, in fact, legally permitted to tow his car, and that the no parking sign was legit.

To Malliet’s surprise, a small crowd gathered on the sidewalk to cheer him on. Cars passed by on Broad Street, honking their horns and hurling jeers at the tow truck driver. Even an elderly woman approached Malliet, thanked him and gave him a hug from his rooftop perch.

"Locals who were watching said that the police constantly took down the (towing company's) signs,” Malliet said. “That just affirmed that something was wrong here.”

The tow-truck driver, realizing Malliet wasn’t giving in, waited in his cab for the police to arrive, according to Malliet. After about 30 minutes, he said, the truck driver conceded defeat and unhitched the Volkswagen, and the crowd cheered.

It’s a story that could easily have gotten lost in the volumed saga of parking wars in Philadelphia, until Tuesday anyway. That's when news broke about an alleged hustle in the exact parking spot where Malliet’s standoff took place in July.

Chris Norman, who lives in an apartment overlooking the same parking space located just south of Washington Avenue, posted pictures and video on his Facebook page showing what he believes to be a scam. (Warning: The video below contains profanity.)

Accompanying the video, Norman posted:

“The tow company parks a car there and pushes the sign back 50 feet behind a fence. Then they wait for someone to pull up behind the truck in what looks to be parking in front of a vacant lot ... then they move the truck they planted ... Tow the car quickly and put the truck back for the next victim ... I watch multiple cars fall trap to this everyday and it really bothers me.”

One of the photos Norman posted showed no car parked in the target spot, and the no parking sign tucked back in the fenced-in parking lot behind the spot. Another picture, taken at night, shows the company's tow truck preparing to tow a vehicle and the sign suddenly appearing on the fence.

“They’re literally baiting people into getting towed,” Norman can be heard saying in one of his videos.

Norman’s video of the alleged hustle has amassed nearly 60,000 views by late Tuesday night. Reached Tuesday night, an employee at towing company confirmed he was aware of the videos and the allegations.

“Our lawyers are looking into it,” the employee, who declined to give his full name, told PhillyVoice.

Malliet said he feels vindicated.

“I’m sure cars get towed illegally everyday,” he said. “My advice? Next time it happens to you, don’t assume you’re at fault. Take a stand — literally — on top your car.”