Warning for drivers: How to protect your property when your car gets towed

HOUSTON – Two years ago, consumer expert Amy Davis uncovered an alleged criminal enterprise. A city-sanctioned Safe Clear towing company and a repair shop owned by a convicted felon were caught allegedly tricking people into signing over their vehicles. The consumers were also stuck with thousands of dollars in repair bills. 

The trial for Richard Gonzalez, the owner of the now-defunct Stan's Wreckers and USA Auto, is set for April 1, 2019. Within days of Davis' investigation, Houston City Council canceled Gonzalez' Safe Clear contract with USA Auto, the state shut the business down and Gonzalez and four of his employees were arrested on charges of organized criminal activity. Gonzalez has pleaded not guilty in court. 

Prosecutors say Gonzalez and his employees told drivers they needed to sign paperwork to authorize a tow after accidents, but what they actually signed was a contract authorizing huge fees and giving the shop authority to tear the vehicle down.

"If you put a document in front of someone and you lie to them of what the document says then that is a crime," explained Valerie Turner, the chief of Harris County District Attorney's Consumer Fraud section.  
"We used the multiple victims to show, 'Here's the document and here's what it actually it says but there are all these people who were told it meant something else,'" Turner said.  

Gonzalez and his co-defendants are now also charged with securing the execution of documents through deception. The alleged ploy is exactly why you shouldn't sign anything you don't read thoroughly. 

The notary public who worked for Stan's Wreckers and USA Auto, Brenda Awawdeh, will stand trial on the same day as Gonzalez. 

Andres Vasquez, who ran the body shop, pleaded guilty to organized criminal activity. In exchange for his testimony at his co-defendants' trials, he was sentenced to four years in prison. 

The trials of Ruben Rendon and Paulita Rodriguez are still pending. 

If you think you have been duped or taken advantage of by a tow truck operator in the city of Houston, you should call HPD Auto Dealers Detail. They have an after-hours phone number so you can reach someone even in the middle of the night if you need help with a towing issue. 

Auto Dealers Detail: (832) 394-4800
After hours: (832) 394-4969