NOT SO FAST!: Orange County Sheriff’s Office nabs (alleged) GayDays towing fraud
Hey, wipe that smile of your face, Jason Combs of ASAP Towing on McCoy Road! You’ve just been busted for (allegedly) doing something pretty terrible. According to a press release from Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings’ office, today – following a fairly prolonged investigation – 44-year-old Combs was arrested on the following charges:
- One count of Grand Theft
- 29 counts of Grand Theft of a Motor Vehicle
- Failure to release vehicle within 1 hour after request
- Failing to Maintain Records
- Failure to Post Towing Contracts
- Four Counts of Failure to Notify the Sheriff’s Office within 30 minutes of tow
- 60 Counts of Violation of Orange County Ordinance
What’s that, you say? A predatory tow company owner fleecing unsuspecting drivers, especially out in the tourist corridor, especially during GayDays, June 5-9, just outside of the expo host hotel, the DoubleTree, here in the South? Oh, and also, a series of (allegedly) falsified contractual documents, unlawful “gate charges” ($40 a pop), towing warnings posted outside of statutory zones in various rights of way, uncomfortable canoodling with restaurant owners, (allegedly) falsified time sheets for staff AND a boat on premises without a trailer? THIS SOUNDS LIKE FLORIDA.
This morning, we were tipped off by the sheriff’s office that there would be some scumbag scuttlebutt coming this afternoon, and it appears that we weren’t to be disappointed. Would you like to read about how all of this transpired? Would you? WOULD YOU? It’s pretty interesting, and we’re going to do our best to redact (out of sensitivity that Combs – again, allegedly – doesn’t have) the names of the victims here, but there are SO MANY. (If you’re one, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Sector 5 substation wants to hear from you at 407-351-9368.) Let’s get dirty, shall we?
It all starts like this (as directly copied from the arrest affidavit):
On June 13th, 2014 We, The Tourist Oriented Policing Squad, began an investigation into ASAP Towing for illegally towing vehicles from 6109 Westwood Boulevard (Westwood Town Center) during the time period of June 5th 2014 through June 9th 2014. This time period coincides with the annual Gay Days celebration. The host hotel, Doubletree by Hilton, is located directly across the street at 10100 International Drive. This annual event brings thousands of the gay, lesbian, trans-gender and bi-sexual persons to the area. This event has a large economic impact in Orange County. The Westwood Town Center is home to various businesses that are frequented by the visitors to Gay Days. There is a Texaco convenience Store, liquor Store, sports bar, Subway, Italian Restaurant, dry cleaner and a steakhouse. All of the businesses see an increase in revenue during this event. International Drive is a transient area and visitor’s frequently park at one business and walk to another.
Based on several complaints, Corporal Richard Schmeltzer and Deputy First Class Christopher Wrzesien responded to the Westwood Shopping Center to inspect the site to make sure it was in “strict compliance” with Florida State Statute 715.07. This statute states the towing notices must be prominently placed at each driveway access or curb cut allowing vehicular access to the property, within 5 feet from the public right- of-way line. Based on the measurements the signs were posted at 8, 24 and 25 feet respectively from the vehicular access to the property.
Schmeltzer spoke with Combs regarding the placement of the signs and told him he was not in compliance with Florida State Statute. Combs was argumentative and stated he did not agree with where the right-of-way line is located. Combs further stated he has a written agreement with the property manager, George Tsunis, to tow away unauthorized vehicles from the property. I requested a copy of the written agreement from Comb’s and he stated if I send him an email he would respond to the email and attach a copy of the agreement.
While on property we met with the following persons who work at various business’s located inside of the Westwood Town Center.
AND HERE’S WHERE IT GETS JUICY AND WE NEED TO START REDACTING:
[The] manager at Delmonico’s Steakhouse stated the following in a sworn statement: She stated the complex was towing vehicle due to an event that was being held at the Doubletree hotel. She stated she was given green stickers to pass out to employees to place on the headlights of their vehicles so they would not be towed. As employees were exiting their vehicles they were approached by the towing company which advised them to make sure they had stickers on their cars. [She] advised she had to give out notes that read “Delmonico’s guest” and told patrons to put the notes in their windshields to avoid having their vehicles towed.
[The] General Manager of Delmonico’s Steakhouse, stated he was provided with “green dot stickers” to put on his employee’s cars front lights so they would not be towed. [He] stated he didn’t authorize any tow company to remove any of Delmonico’s customers or employee vehicles.
[The] manager of the Subway inside of the Westwood Town Center stated he had no agreement with any tow company to tow vehicles from the complex parking lot. Wilson stated he had several customers of Subway complain to him their vehicle had been towed even though they were a patron of Subway.
[The] owner of the Texaco inside of the Westwood Town Center he had no agreement with nor knowledge of any towing of cars from Westwood Town Center during Gay Days from June 5th through 8th. [He] stated he did not witness any vehicles being towed.
[The] manager of the liquor store stated he was not informed that any of his customer’s vehicles would be towed from the parking lot. [He] stated he did not give permission to any tow companies to remove any of his customer’s vehicles. [He] stated at one point someone had posted a sign “For Patron Only” and even though he had patrons in his store their vehicles were still towed away.
See how that works? It would appear that ASAP Towing had staked out the area located conveniently adjacent to the gay Sodom and Gomorrah pool party at the DoubleTree Hilton, and had (potentially) coerced shopping center businesses to play along! So, our friend Corporal Schmeltzer got busy McGruffing his way through this quizzical crime.
On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, Corporal Schmeltzer received a call from Combs and requested he meet with him at the Westwood Town Center so he could move the signs so they would be in compliance with Florida State Statute. Schmeltzer and Wrzesien met with Combs and showed him the signs that were out of compliance. Schmeltzer asked Combs for a copy of his agreement with the shopping center and Combs stated the following, “I will show you a copy on my phone but I will not email you a copy because I don’t want it to become public record.” Schmeltzer asked again for a copy and Combs further stated, “It says on your email reply that your emails are kept as a public record and may be disclosed to the public at any time.” Schmeltzer informed Combs he would obtain a subpoena to get the records. Combs moved the 3 signs which were posted at the site to within 5 feet of the public right-of-way to meet statutory requirement.
On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, a request was filed with the Office of the State Attorney, Jeff Ashton, for an investigative subpoena. The request was granted and Corporal Schmeltzer received an electronic copy of the subpoena from the Office of the State Attorney. I requested this subpoena because I was conducting an investigation into ASAP Towing for criminal activity to include grand theft auto, violations of Florida State Statute 715.07 which address towing of vehicles from private property and violations of Orange County Ordinances regarding the towing of vehicles.
On Thursday, June 19, 2014, Corporal Schmeltzer, Deputy First Class Riccaboni and Deputy First Class Wrzesien drove to ASAP Towing, 3101 McCoy Road, Orlando, Florida 32812 to serve Combs or the Custodian of Records with the subpoena. We parked our vehicle along the sidewalk and did not block the entrance or disrupt the flow of business to ASAP Towing. Riccaboni called the phone number listed on the sign posted for ASAP Towing which was at the front of the business and an unknown person answered the phone. Riccaboni requested a manager or owner to respond to the location to speak with us. While we were waiting for a representative to arrive an unknown electric company was attempting to gain access to the property to do contract work. The unknown person Riccaboni spoke with on the phone stated a manager would show up shortly. Approximately 7 to 10 minutes later a red tow truck with the business name ASAP Towing showed up on scene. The tow truck was being operated by a white male that was later identified as Jason Combs. Combs stated he is the owner of ASAP Towing. Combs was served the Subpoena Duces Tecum issued by the Office of the State Attorney. The report date and time for the subpoena were labeled, “instanter.” Combs or the Custodian of record were directed to furnish any and all documents related to towing of vehicles from Westwood Town Center, 6109 Westwood Boulevard, Orlando, Florida to include authorization agreement between ASAP Towing and George Tsunis. I provided Combs with a list of what exact records I was looking to obtain in regards to the towing of vehicles from Westwood Town Center: The towing agreement between Westwood Town Center, George Tsunis and ASAP towing to include agreements which covered the time period of June 5th, 2014 through June 9th, 2014, All documents and contracts between REC Towing and Recovery and any other tow company that assisted in removing vehicles from Westwood Town Center during June 5th, 2014 and June 9th, 2014, Copy of rates and receipts of any vehicle towed by ASAP towing or any company working on behalf of ASAP Towing which towed vehicles from Westwood Town Center during the time of June 5th, 2014 and June 9th, 2014, and the name, date of birth, and address of any employee or contractor that was involved in the towing or assisted in the spotting of vehicles towed from Westwood Town Center during the time period of June 5th, 2014 and June 9th, 2014. Once again Combs became very argumentative and he appeared to be shaking and trembling. Combs walked to the side of his tow truck and began to make phone calls. I did not stand close to Combs and listen to his conversation. He was free to move about and obtain the information as needed.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, OUR (ALLEGED) PERP WAS SHAKING!
We observed the following while on scene. There were numerous vehicles parked in the front lot that appeared to be in poor condition, a boat that was not on a trailer in very poor shape, vehicle parts scattered around and a red and yellow shed that had tow rates posted on the south side of the shed. There were no contracts from any properties posted on site authorizing ASAP Towing to tow vehicles as required by Florida State Statute and Orange County Ordinance. Corporal Schmeltzer called the Orange County Auto Theft Unit and advised them of possible violations he observed. Corporal Schmeltzer spoke with Corporal Timothy Nazzaro and advised him of the status of his case he was currently investigating regarding ASAP Towing. Corporal Nazzaro and Detective Adam Ellison responded to ASAP Towing and conducted an inspection of the property.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!!!! Click to the next page, and you’ll see when the attorney shows up and videos the cops while Combs continues to seem rather uncomfortable!