Five arrested in Mesa towing investigation - East Valley Tribune: Public Safety

Five arrested in Mesa towing investigation

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Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 4:39 pm | Updated: 10:43 am, Sun Dec 16, 2012.

After a nearly two-year investigation, Mesa Police Department has arrested five people in connection with fraudulent business practices with dozens of victims at S.W.A.T. Towing/Auto Citi Towing.

“We noticed we were getting an inordinate number of complaints on the company,” said Sgt. Anthony Landato.

Troy C. Myers, 22, Richard Gonzales, 29, Ashley Zepeda, 24, Thomas M. O'Brien, 38, and Orlando Padilla, 35 were arrested on charges that include illegal control of an enterprise, participating in a criminal syndicate, trafficking in stolen property, auto theft, forgery and fraudulent schemes.

“There was a laundry list of odd things they were doing,” Landato said.

Police began the investigation in September 2010 after receiving a larger number of complaints on S.W.A.T. Towing/Auto Citi than other local tow companies, Landato said. Undercover detectives determined that business, which previously operated out of 310 S. Alma School Road, was conducting alleged criminal activity.

“To bring charges like this, you really have to dig and get all your ducks in a row, so to speak,” Landato said.

Police needed to be able to prove that it was more than the actions of one employee, that the company had full knowledge of the illegal practices, Landato said.

Allegations against the Mesa-based company and its employees include illegally towing vehicles from properly parked locations, damaged vehicles during the tow process, inconsistent pricing and refusal to release the vehicles without a cash payment.

Although the company was based in Mesa, it towed from cities throughout the East Valley.

Some victims even lost ownership of their vehicle to the towing company, Landato said. Owners would work with the company to release their car; however the company would not properly document when owners tried to claim their vehicle.

The company allegedly then applied for the abandoned titles and sold the vehicles at M&P Auto Sales, a used car lot in Chandler, Landato said.

Mesa Police worked on the investigation with assistance from the Arizona Department of Transportation, Arizona Motor Vehicle Division, and the Arizona Auto Theft Task Force.

Detectives conducted in-depth background checks on the employees that went back to 2009, Landato said. During that time, dozens of victims were contacted.

“We certainly believe that there were many, many more victims out there,” Landato said.

If you believe you have been victimized by S.W.A.T./Auto Citi Towing, please contact Mesa Police Department at (480) 644-2324.

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