Ultimate Towing is under scrutiny from the Gainesville City Commission for its "predatory" roam towing practices. (Syama Allard/WUFT News)
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Ultimate Towing’s Roam Towing Practices Catch Gainesville City Commission’s Attention

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The Gainesville City Commission is taking a closer look at roam towing practices, infamously used across the city by Ultimate Towing.

At a city commission meeting Thursday, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe passed a motion to refer the subject of Ultimate Towing of Gainesville Inc.’s roam towing practices to a general policy meeting, where commissioners will discuss the issue in more depth.

Roam towing, the removal of an illegally parked vehicle from private property at the property owner’s direction, was a topic of heated discussion on the Facebook group “Gainesville Business Word of Mouth” in February, when the owner of the towed car Michael Wohl posted an update describing his experience.

Wohl, who parked at the Sun Center parking lot Feb. 10, said he left his car to have dinner at Boca Fiesta. When he returned, his car was gone.

Wohl discovered shorty after that Boca Fiesta and the Hippodrome State Theatre actually aren’t part of the Sun Center, and that there are signs in the complex indicating so. Even though he thinks the signs need to be larger and clearer, he accepted the fact that he was legally towed.

It was something else that bothered Wohl.

After walking half a mile to Ultimate Towing and paying a $100 fee to retrieve his car, Wohl said he went back to the Sun Center parking lot to warn people that Boca Fiesta was not part of the Sun Center. What he saw while he was there is what angered him.

“Ultimate Towing has a spotter to go out there and record you walking off the property so that they have evidence,” Wohl said. “The tow trucks are literally right around the corner.”

He said he saw six cars get towed during the 20 minutes he was there, and each car was towed within 5 minutes of the vehicles owner walking away.

“I feel it’s predatory towing in the sense that if they truly didn’t want people to park at the Sun Center, they would warn them and say, as they’re getting out of their car: ‘hey, if you’re going to Boca don’t park here,’” Wohl said. “But they don’t do that. They let you walk away, they take pictures of you walking away, and they call a tow truck right around the corner and they haul it off, and it’s an easy 100 bucks.”

Joe Lin, manager of Liquid Ginger, a restaurant located in the Sun Center, said he thinks Ultimate Towing could be a bit more lenient.

“The issue that I face is when customers are coming here and then they walk up to the Hippodrome steps and get their car towed, because they’re just looking at what time the show starts, and they come back here and their car’s gone,” Lin said.

Lin also said the towing practices haven’t been the best for Liquid Ginger’s business.

“I’ve had quite a few customers say they’re not coming back,” Lin said.

City Commissioner Harvey Budd is also upset over the Ultimate Towing issue, and thinks some sort of procedure of redress should be in order for when Ultimate Towing makes a mistake.

“I was towed from a place where I was legally allowed to park,” Budd said. “It was a misunderstanding. I went to the owner, tried to get my money back, and of course they laugh at you.”

Stephen O’Grady, the owner of Ultimate Towing, said impound towing is a contentious business, but that it’s necessary to protect the rights of private property owners.

“You have people that are obviously not happy they’ve been impounded, and rather than take responsibility for not following the rules, and rather than take responsibility for the poor decision they’ve made to park where they did, they want to blame somebody else,” O’Grady said. “In this case they want to blame my company.”

O’Grady also said the practices of his company were legal, and that Ultimate Towing does it’s job in serving the community.

“My company has been the subject of approximately 600 investigations by law enforcement agencies,” O’Grady said. “The Gainesville Police Department has a full-time division to investigate towing complaints. The State Attorney’s Office has investigated my company – the Florida Highway Patrol, The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. They have never found that I, or my company, has committed a crime ever, under my ownership.”

About Syama Allard

Syama Allard is a reporter for WUFT news. He can be reached at 352-256-8749 and at sallard108@ufl.edu

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41 comments

  1. That’s the reason we don’t go downtown.

  2. The only hand that never gets slapped is one with greasy palms.

    • Ah, the Good ‘Ole Boy system – whether on paper or under the table, the property owners are getting a cut of the action.

      • Not true. Property owners do not receive as much a penny from my company. They pay the City of Gainesville a fee to use my company. I have never paid anything, given anything or benefited a property owner or manager in any way.

        That is a third degree felony and I have no desire to go to jail. Property owners use my company because they feel it is in their and their property’s best interest.

        When I go to lunch with a property owner or manager we each pay separately for our meals or the property owner treats me. I cannot even buy lunch for a property owner or manager.

  3. Ultimate towing may be following the law, but they’re still pieces of shit.

  4. Allbit takes is that 1 piece there all missing and a few praying won’t be found. Karma is a BITCH

  5. If towing is an issue in that area, then maybe they should mark the spots better, by either writing “Sun Center only” on each spot, or placing a sign in an area that is visible to all parties (e.g., place the sign in various areas and see which one is the most noticeable to customers by asking them if they saw the sign when they enter the center).

    • Having grown up here, until very recently, (because my friend’s car got booted) I didn’t know that the Sun Center was only a portion of the ‘Sun Center’ that people use to call the buildings that surround the Hippodrome, including the Hipp (which is not part of the SC). A better sign should say NOT PARKING FOR ___, ____, YOU WILL BE TOWED .. And the fact that if you park to go to the sun center, run across the street to hug someone you haven’t seen in a while, then cross back and carry on while your car is booted or towed seems kinda wrong to me. Or if you give someone a ride, they leave, and YOU go to the SC, you should not be towed! (These things have happened!)

  6. This towing nightmare is not unique to Gainesville. Just google. It’s happening in a lot of places. There was a wrecker company in WV that charged $185,856.00 for a wrecked Semi last year. They are out of hand. We have a lot of these stories in Michigan as well.

  7. I’ve seen ultimate take cars many times that were parked legally. They like to steal scooters too. I think by law they should have to let you know they have towed your car. The prices are ridiculous for get’n your car back too. Be a real shame if they picked up a car that blew their lot up. Lmao CROOKS

    • Currently Florida State Statue DOES require we notify registerd owners, lien holders and the vehicle’s insurance company it has been towed. We follow this and have record of it.

      Commissioner Craig Carter opposes this and stated to me he wants to change the State Law regarding notification.

      I am against changing the State Law requiring notification. I believe that would be unfair and result in people having more expensive storage and tow bills. I rather have people notified, their insurance and their lien holder so they have all of the information how to claim their vehicles and belongings.

  8. I was ignored by a guy who I stood 2 feet from. He did not answer my question: Is it okay to park in that space? As I pointed to my car. I thought he was racist because he did not even act as though I existed. Then I asked the driver behind the wheel of the tow truck: “Is it okay to park there” Ultimate Towing driver: “Yeah”. He should be fired by Stephen O’Grady, who told me: “I have hi-def camera’s on my trucks and the person who tells which car to tow is a African American person in the office (I saw a guy with a walkie-talkie running around like a lunatic so I think O’Grady lied to me), so I am not racist. I’m half Hispanic. I bet you didn’t see that coming.” I asked him to show me the hi-def camera footage and haven’t heard from the towing-terrorists ever again. I watched their operation where they had a guy with a walkie-talkie who took pictures of people leaving the Sun Center lot, the guy who wouldn’t answer me who hooked up the tow apparatus and the driver behind the wheel. I’m pretty sure they damaged the pretty blue truck they towed on Saturday October 15, 2016. Totally roughed the truck trying to pull it out of the tight parking space it was in. When I got my car the following day, my bumper was damaged and I could not get the owner Stephen O’Grady to return my phone calls nor was he EVER available. His excuse to me was “I run a company like Wal-mart. I’m too busy to call people back.” If that is true, what is the point of your cashier taking my phone number saying you will call me? Liars all around with this company. Un-american Towing is their new name.

  9. Endrédi Gergely

    let me share my story: I was fixing my car in my apartman’s parking lot well after sundown. the ultimate towing guy came, and checked all the parked cars. he walked past my car that I was fixing at that moment. I even said hello to the guy so he recognises that I have a decal and everything. as soon as I fixed my car I went up and got to sleep. Got up in the morning, my car got towed away… checked in with the company they said that they have my car at their lot. I went their and asked why did they tow away my car when I have a decal at the TOP LEFT CORNER on my windshield. They said that it was supposed to be on the BOTTOM LEFT CORNER… I did not pay them a dime, told them to give me back my car right now. they said it was a mistake… I also requested to talk to the guy who towed it away amd they refused. pathetic company…

  10. From the Sun Center’s web site; “Sun Center is adjacent to the historic Hippodrome State Theatre and within easy walking distance of the Alachua County Civil and Criminal Courthouses, the Federal Courthouse, Gainesville City Hall, Alachua County Administrative Offices, Post Office, Library, Commerce Building, RTS Depot, the award-winning Union Street Station and the brand new Hampton Inn & Suites.” …. “easy walking distance”??, ya dont say….Yeah…. ummmmm just dont park at Sun Center and WALK to any of those places!!! The owners of the Sun Center must be real …(fill in the blank)’s!!

  11. McGurn Management Company
    101 SE 2nd Place
    Sun Center Plaza
    Suite 202
    Gainesville, FL 32601
    Phone: 352-372-6172

    Call them today and ask why they condone these predatory towing practises while advertising the fact that the Sun Center … “wraps around three sides of the historic Hippodrome State Theatre” …

  12. I would like to know why the writer of this article conveniently stepped around the Sun Center and it’s management company. SC and McGurn have the power to reign in the rogue towing company who prowls their parking lot!

  13. That’s one of the reasons we never venture downtown much. Parking (in general) = hassle. Gainesville is not the friendliest city in that regard.

  14. I was towed in May by him. He started a fight with my boyfriend who was in line at Maude’s. He then towed our car and personally threatened me and my vehicle. He dented my oil pan and caused over $2000 worth of damage to my car. Thankfully my insurance covered it, because he was not cooperative. I am think of filing a small claims case against him.

    • There was no fight. Please be honest. You called the police and the security footage video showes there was no altercation or fight. I was never even standing close to you or your boyfriend. I was across the street and you were yelling at me.

      With all of the hatred towards me if I had done ANYTHING even remotely threatening or illegal I would have been arrested.

      I did not damage the oil pan on your car. Another lie. You waited MONTHS until after the tow to try and claim we punctured your oil pan. If your oil pan was punctured you would not have been able to drive your car without it seizing due to lack of oil off of my impound lot let alone drive it everyday for weeks and months.

      You have a Volkswagen. They have notoriously low and weak oil pans and the internet is full of people running over something in the road causing a puncture and engine failure. Again, if your oil pan was compromised by my company you car wouldn’t even have made it a block from my office.

      I know you hate me and that’s fine but please be truthful with that you post.

      • You love to lie. You refused to tell me your insurance information so I could make a claim. The local VW dealer showed me the damage within a week and agreed it was from your towing. So did my insurance company.

        It’s ok though the City Commision is onto you now. ;)

        • Stephen O'Grady

          Every (2) or (3) years around election time the City Commision holds a hearing and listens to complaints. My company is the most strictly regulated in the City and State Statues / Laws protect the rights of PRIVATE property owner’s to remove people from trespassing on their property. It’s a basic right of a private property owner. Every single vehicle towed by my company the driver of the vehicle is legally trespassing and could be cited for trespassing by GPD.

          There is no “on to me”. Under my ownership Ultimate Towing has never been found guilty of a single crime involving trespass towing. There have been over 600 law enforcement investigations from Gainesville Police Department, Alachua Sherrif’s Department, Deparment of Professional Regulation and the State Attorney’s office.

          NOT ONCE has my company ever been found to break the law. Tens of thousands of tax payer dollars have been WASTED investigating me and my company due to frivolous and untrue complaints and flat-out lies.

          Wouldn’t you think after all of these investigations–some under cover–If I was doing all these nefarious and illegal and nasty things there would be one single piece of evidence?

        • Stephen O'Grady

          Every (2) or (3) years around election time the City Commision holds a hearing and listens to complaints. I welcome the discussion and have a history of working with the City Commission.
          My company is the most strictly regulated in the City and State Statues / Laws protect the rights of PRIVATE property owner’s to remove people from trespassing on their property. It’s a basic right of a private property owner. Every single vehicle towed by my company the driver of the vehicle is legally trespassing and could be cited for trespassing by GPD.
          There is no “on to me”. Under my ownership Ultimate Towing has never been found guilty of a single crime involving trespass towing. There have been over 600 law enforcement investigations from Gainesville Police Department, Alachua Sherrif’s Department, Deparment of Professional Regulation and the State Attorney’s office.
          NOT ONCE has my company ever been found to break the law. Tens of thousands of tax payer dollars have been WASTED investigating me and my company due to frivolous and untrue complaints and flat-out lies.
          In fact, one of the frivolous and untruthful complains was from you–who claimed falsely we got into an altercation and fight–which the police investigated the security video showed there was NO fight and I never came closer than across from a busy street from you. You were screaming insanely at me.
          Wouldn’t you think after all of these investigations–some under cover–If I was doing all these nefarious and illegal and nasty things there would be one single piece of evidence?
          I love to lie?” Let’s look at the facts. You called GPD and even on here claim I got into a fight with your boyfriend. That would be a battery. The police came out, made a report, looked at high definition security videos and determined I never came any closer to you or your boyfriend than across a busy street, they determined it was you who was yelling and I never threatened you in any manor physically or verbally.
          There is a report and anyone can go to GPD and read the official report by the two separate responding police officers. While they were busy investigating something that never happened you reported they were unavailable to serve our community, to protect and to stop criminals.
          Instead they spent about (2) hours of time and resources and determined you lied and I never even came close to you and your boyfriend much less got into a fight with you.
          Your own insurance company contacted my insurance company and YOUR own insurance agreed we did not damage your vehicle. Both insurance companies discussed the situation and legally determined YOU WERE AT FAULT AND NOT MY COMPANY.
          So tell me who’s lying?

        • Every (2) or (3) years around election time the City Commision holds a hearing and listens to complaints. I welcome the discussion and have a history of working with the City Commission.
          My company is the most strictly regulated in the City and State Statues / Laws protect the rights of PRIVATE property owner’s to remove people from trespassing on their property. It’s a basic right of a private property owner. Every single vehicle towed by my company the driver of the vehicle is legally trespassing and could be cited for trespassing by GPD.
          There is no “on to me”. Under my ownership Ultimate Towing has never been found guilty of a single crime involving trespass towing. There have been over 600 law enforcement investigations from Gainesville Police Department, Alachua Sherrif’s Department, Deparment of Professional Regulation and the State Attorney’s office.
          NOT ONCE has my company ever been found to break the law. Tens of thousands of tax payer dollars have been WASTED investigating me and my company due to frivolous and untrue complaints and flat-out lies.
          In fact, one of the frivolous and untruthful complains was from you–who claimed falsely we got into an altercation and fight–which the police investigated the security video showed there was NO fight and I never came closer than across from a busy street from you. You were screaming insanely at me.
          Wouldn’t you think after all of these investigations–some under cover–If I was doing all these nefarious and illegal and nasty things there would be one single piece of evidence?
          I love to lie?” Let’s look at the facts. You called GPD and even on here claim I got into a fight with your boyfriend. That would be a battery. The police came out, made a report, looked at high definition security videos and determined I never came any closer to you or your boyfriend than across a busy street, they determined it was you who was yelling and I never threatened you in any manor physically or verbally.
          There is a report and anyone can go to GPD and read the official report by the two separate responding police officers. While they were busy investigating something that never happened you reported they were unavailable to serve our community, to protect and to stop criminals.
          Instead they spent about (2) hours of time and resources and determined you lied and I never even came close to you and your boyfriend much less got into a fight with you.
          Your own insurance company contacted my insurance company and YOUR own insurance agreed we did not damage your vehicle. Both insurance companies discussed the situation and legally determined YOU WERE AT FAULT AND NOT MY COMPANY.
          So tell me who’s lying?

    • An arrest is not the same as being found guilty. With all of the hatred towards my company people lie and file false police reports all of the time.

      Our entire country and courts are based on innocent until proven guilty.

      None of my impound drivers have ever been convicted of any felony or violent crime prohibiting them from passing a background check. Gainesville Police Department by law conducts a thourough background check on very tow truck driver before they can be employed. Each employee is fully vetted by the Gainesville Police Department. I am not allowed to hire an employee until APPROVED by Gainesville Police.

      All of this information is on file and public record at Gainesville Police Depart. Go and see if for yourself.

      If you only knew how many times a week a totally police report is filed against me and my company or its employees. It’s sick and disgusting.

      • So someone called the police in Polk County on your driver for not paying child support while they were about to get their car towed??? I would pay to see the HD video of this one going down. Such filthy liars.

        • My company does not operate in Polk County. Yes, I have more than one driver that has been charged with failure to pay child support. I think it’s reprehensible not to pay child support, but that is not a crime disqualifiying a person from working for me. It’s not violent, not a felony, not sexual and not theft.

          My advice is not to date or have children with any of my tow truck drivers.

          • It’s disqualifying if the state suspends their drivers license. Perhaps the court ought to take a long hard look at your dead beat drivers!

          • I agree. I HATE dead beat parents not making good on their responsibilities. Children are more important than anything else so no objections from me.

          • How reassuring is it to know that deadbeats are tasked with making sure people are being responsible when parking. Not to mention burglary of a dwelling, grand theft, assault and battery.

            To be fair, some of these charges happened before they worked for you or you purchased Ultimate, but these are the people we have patrolling the parking lots. People who have no qualms about screwing over their own flesh and blood.

          • All of my employees have been throughly vetted by the Gainesville Police Department. Each tow drive goes through a two week background check and interview with Gainesville Police Department. GPD has full control over who I hire to impound cars. GPD makes th decisions–not me. GPD continually monitores the status of my employees and if anything occurs ti disqualify them from working they are immediately terminated.

            I am not aware of any convictions affecting any of my drivers. An arrest or accusation is not a conviction. These guy have many kids with many woman and some really nasty “baby momma drama”. They have had accusations made but never convicted in any courts.

            GPD watches my employees carefully. I assure you any sample of any workforce–including cops and firefighters and teachers-and doctors and daycare workers–all have similar life occurrences. It would be foolish to think otherwise.

            I think it’s irresponsible to not pay child support. A person not paying child support is not a dangerous person and the community has nothing to fear from them. A person not paying child support doesn’t mean they are rapists, pedophiles, violent or career criminals. Just don’t have kids with any of my tow drivers.

          • You should take a look at how many doctors, nurses, day care workers, police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, lifeguards, teachers, airline pilots and this list goes on and on……so your saying having a dispute over child support and alimony disqualifies a person from holding a job?

  15. Suggestion: if you see someone about to tow someone’s car, sit on it.

    • BAD and ILLEGAL advice. Firstly, if it’s not your car sitting on it is likely to cause a dent and scratch. That will result in a criminal charge of vandalism and you will be paying restitution. We still will get our money with or without you sitting on the car. You’re likely to injure yourself. The police or Sherrif’s office will respond and the officer will ask you to get off the car. Refuse and now you have another charge for not obeying a law enforcement officer. Continue to refuse and now you have an arrestable offense and resisting arrest.

      GPD tends not to use their K9 dogs to remove you off of or inside a car but they will get you out. ASO on the other hand brings the K9 dogs out quickly and the K9 will bite you and drag you out of the car.

      I’ve seen it happen many times.

      Don’t sit on or in a vehicle. Be polite and act appropriately. Nothing good will come from acting aggressively and illegally.

      We have HD cameras on our trucks just like the police so the State Atty will have video used to convict you.

      • I could lean on a car without damaging it at all in order to simply obstruct your path. As you are not law enforcement, I would be well within my rights to ignore your requests to move out of the way so you can hook up to the car. Touch me and I’d charge you with assault and be well within my rights to press charges.

        You can dial 911, and I could happily stay put until the police arrive and order me to comply, which sure, I would, after a sufficiently long and drawn out conversation with law enforcement to clarify exactly what my rights are, exactly what I am in jeopardy of being charged with.

        Be polite and act appropriately. Nothing good will come from acting obnoxiously and greedily with your predatory roam towing practices.

        I carry an HD camera in my pocket, and I’d have it out to film you as well.

        • Stephen O'Grady

          You are suggesting behavior that could lead to someone getting hurt. That’s not the way to handle your hatred of my company. I’ll tell you how to put me out of business in less than two weeks.

          Get people to read signs written in third grade English and park properly and follow parking rules.

          People do this and I’d be broke in les than a month.

  16. Seriously folks, yes, the towing company is two or three levels below the “buy here pay here” car lots, payday loan companies, check cashing companies, slum lords and low ball pawn shops that dot the Gainesville City landscape, but the real culprits, in my opinion, are the owners and property managers of the business that contract with the towing company. Yeah, I get the property rights thing, but I’m sure there can be some give and take here. If I owned a business downtown that was closed on nights and weekends I wouldnt care if people parked in my lot in order to visit neighboring businesses. We all profit in the long run. The fact that Sun Center and McGurn Management condone such predatory practices speaks more to their integrity and lack of community spirit than it does to shady towing services.

  17. “If the registered owner or other person in control of the vehicle arrives at the scene prior to removal or towing of the vehicle, the vehicle shall be disconnected from the towing or removal apparatus, and that person shall be allowed to remove the vehicle without interference upon the payment of a reasonable service fee of not more than one-half of the posted rate for such towing service for which a receipt shall be given, unless that person refuses to remove the vehicle which is unlawfully parked from the private real property.” Gainesville Muni Code

  18. So why is McGurn pushing the tow truck company to be so aggressive and predatory you ask, or not. A wise old talk radio DJ who has long since passed on used to say “follow the money trail”. Who holds a 99 year lease on the closest parking garage to the Sun Center? You guessed it, McGurn. Feel free to connect the dots.

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