UPDATE: A spokesperson for the City of Memphis said the permits office had held one hearing with A1’s Towing and Hauling and has another one scheduled.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — The Tennessee Highway Patrol is assisting the Memphis Police Department with an investigation of A1’s Towing and Hauling as complaints against the Memphis-based company continue to grow.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security said THP’s Criminal Investigations Division is providing assistance upon request as Memphis Police look into A1’s activities but didn’t go into specifics. MPD has not answered questions about a possible investigation of A1’s Towing.

Over the last week, at least two trucking companies from out of state have filed complaints with the City of Memphis Permits Office regarding A1’s towing practices.

Both companies said drivers had their vehicles towed from the same unmanned gas station on Lamar, and both had to pay thousands of dollars to get their big rigs back.

3400 block of Lamar. (WREG photo)
WREG photo

“I’ve been in business 23 years, and I have never seen a towing operation like this,” said Fenn Church with Church Transportation. “This is horrible what they are doing to the industry.”

The owner of the Birmingham, Alabama company said one of his drivers parked a tractor-trailer on a lot in the 3400 block of Lamar, and it was booted while the driver was still inside the truck.

Church said A1’s employees told him he would have to pay a $272 fee to have the boot removed. He said they tried to pay with a credit card, but A1’s told them time was up, and they were towing the truck. Church said it cost him over $4,500 to get the 18-wheeler back.

“I called A1’s towing myself and talked to a guy in dispatch, and I said, Greg, there is no need to tow the truck. Just tell me what you want, and we’ll be glad to pay your ransom. Just tell me what you want,” Church said. “Nope, it doesn’t work like that.”

Elizabeth Mullen and her husband own Mullen Transportation out of Manchester, Iowa. She said her driver couldn’t find parking at the Love’s Travel Stop and parked in the lot next to it. She said the driver went to the Love’s store to get some food, and when he came back, A1’s was in the process of hooking up his tractor-trailer.

“I talked to the tow guy, and he just said we are towing the truck, that’s it,” said Mullen.

Mullen and Church admit their drivers didn’t see the pay-to-park sign but said A1’s had no right to take their vehicles and charge so much. Mullen Transportation was forced to pay $2,450 to get their truck released from A1’s lot.

“It’s crazy, and it’s not affordable. That is a semester of college for my daughter, and she is only in community college. It’s insane. And they wouldn’t take a credit card, just cash or a wire transfer,” said Mullen.

The city’s booting ordinance says the maximum charge for a boot removal should not exceed $50, a vehicle that’s booted cannot be towed unless the owner fails to contact the booting company within 24 hours, and a booting licensee must accept checks, cash, or credit cards.

The city’s towing ordinance states if the owner or operator of a vehicle about to be towed is present and removes a vehicle before it is connected to the towing vehicle, the owner shall not be charged a fee.

“I want my money back. They need to contact me and repay what they stole from me this past week,” said Church.

In a statement, A1’s Towing and Hauling said:

“A1’s Towing & Hauling operates on a strict protocol wherein we respond to service requests from individuals and companies, including our services for parking compliance. Our drivers are dispatched from our yard to perform these services professionally and within the boundaries of the law. Any attempts to depict A1’s Towing & Hauling as participating in illegal towing, price gouging, or any other illicit activities are baseless and untruthful. A1’s Towing & Hauling has not violated any civil ordinance with the fees charged for booting. Sec 11-70-8 applies to passenger motor vehicles, not for commercial vehicles such as 18-wheelers, big rigs, or tractor-trailers within the City of Memphis. We want to emphasize that A1’s Towing & Hauling takes customer interactions seriously.”

When WREG asked the City of Memphis if there were different rules for passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers, a spokesperson said, “The booting ordinance does not specify what type of vehicle can be booted. The maximum amount a booting company can charge to remove a boot is $50.00 per the city ordinance. The ordinance states that no vehicle affixed with a boot may be towed unless the owner of the vehicle fails to contact the booting company within 24 hours of the notice. Towing fees are based on the type of wrecker being used. A Class C wrecker rate is $350.00 per hour. The ordinances state vehicles.”

Some of the written complaints made against A1’s. (WREG photo)

In September, the city’s permits office said it had begun an investigation of A1’s Towing and Hauling after receiving a number of complaints made against A1’s over the last year, but it does not appear the city has taken any action.

Several A1’s employees, including owner Colton Cathey, were also arrested after they were accused of taking semi-trucks by force.

Last month, the Shelby County District Attorney’s office said the charges that included carjacking, robbery, and aggravated assaults were dismissed because they were in General Sessions court and they could not subpoena the out-of-state victims. District Attorney Steve Mulroy’s office said they would continue pursuing the cases and expect them to go to criminal court.

In August, the Arkansas Towing and Recovery Board fined A1’s towing and suspended its booting license after receiving complaints from nine truckers who said they had been illegally booted and towed from an unmanned truck stop in West Memphis.

A1’s was also ordered to pay back one truck driver $2,800.

Fenn Church said in addition to the City of Memphis, he has contacted the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the Tennessee Trucking Association to report what he believes is predatory towing.

“We can’t stay in business. I mean, our business is tough as it is right now with the economy the way it is. It’s been a down year for us altogether, and then you’ve got predatory predators just preying on victimless trucking companies to pad their pockets. It’s unreal,” said Church.

In this case, Church and Mullen had their trucks towed from the exact location to the A1’s lot on Mallory but were charged very different amounts. Mullen Transportation said it won’t be doing business in Memphis.

“We are going to tell our fellow brethren don’t refuel in Memphis, Tennessee. Let them go broke. Don’t fuel there. Don’t give them any business. Don’t do it. It’s not ok,” she said.

We asked the permits office for an update on their investigation but are still waiting for a response.

If you believe you have been booted, ticketed, or towed improperly, you can contact the City of Memphis Permits Office at 901-636-6711.