Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Imagine coming out to your car after a nice dinner, only to find your car has vanished. That's been happening for years at what one state agency calls a problem spot on the strip.
But that problem may be solved thanks to a Contact 13 Investigation.
"It's just a ripoff. They're ripping off the people. It's terrible."
A nice evening turned nasty for Toni Jo Wilgar over the Thanksgiving weekend. She started at the Peppermill, parking in one of their spots, but moved her car before heading to the Riviera.
Darcy Spears asked, "Okay, so maybe 30 steps away from your parking spot, you moved your car here. Why?"
Wilgar answered, "Because there was no visible signage anywhere."
"And then when you came out of the Riviera what happened?" asked Darcy.
"12:30 a.m. in the morning my car was gone."
Isolated incident? Hardly.
After Contact 13 got multiple complaints about towing from this lot, we decided to see for ourselves. In just over an hour on a busy Friday night, our camera caught half a dozen cars being towed away.
"I came out. My car was gone," said Michael Pierce. He believes the tow company is preying on confused drivers.
"What do you think this lot is for?" asked Darcy.
"I don't know. You know that's a good question. I know right now in their minds it's for towing other people's cars and making a little bit of money," said Pierce.
More than a little. Wilgar's tow fee was $275.
As for Pierce, because of surgery on his foot, he couldn't get his car right away so his bill rose to $780 which he couldn't afford to pay, "I was so pissed."
The Peppermill didn't want to go on camera for this story but said this is a battle they've been fighting for years. They even posted a note on the front door of the restaurant warning people that there's a towing scam being perpetrated on visitors and locals alike. And it's something they've done everything they can to stop.
Wilgar and Pierce filed complaints with the Nevada Transportation Authority.
Contact 13 learned the agency has received 26 towing complaints since March resulting in 27 citations against tow truck operators at this address.
Six of those citations were issued in just the past three weeks to the current tow operator which goes by the name The Tow Truck Company the citations allege that they "failed to have proper signs."
The Tow Truck Company refused to go on camera, but said they don't decide which cars get towed. They're responding to calls from the property manager.
As for problems with signage, they claim people who get towed often tear down signs after the fact, and the tow operator has to replace them.
A waist-level sign facing the Las Vegas Strip says "Authorized Parking Only." Authorized by who? And for what?
A sign at the other end of the parking lot is different. It says the parking is reserved for 2955 South Las Vegas Boulevard. But there's no business at that address. It's just a parking lot. Confused? So were we.
We spoke with Transportation Authority Commissioner Monica Metz, "Things that read Authorized Parking Only is not specific enough. It needs to say who is authorized or who is not authorized."
The Tow Truck Company's November citations also include three for forcing car owners to pay in cash. That violates a new law which took effect on Oct. 1, 2013.
"The tow operators are required now to take cash, money orders, debit and credit cards and any electronic transfers of money," said Metz.
We took these concerns to James Grindstaff with Triple 5 Development the company who owns this lot.
"What's going on here?" asked Darcy.
"Well from our perspective, we're just maintaining the integrity of our lot," said Grindstaff.
Mainly, he said, for the kiosks who rent space, "Regardless of whether it's foot traffic or not, we're still required to make sure there's parking available for people who may come down here."
But things have changed since Contact 13 began investigating. A more permanent structure is on its way to house the kiosks, and Triple 5 is changing its tune.
"I would be happy if I never did a single tow," says Grindstaff.
That's exactly what's happening, at least for now. Right after talking to us, Triple 5 suspended all towing at this lot unless and until they can figure out a way to do it better.
The Tow Truck Company reminds drivers to look around for signs when you park.
If you think you've been unlawfully towed the NTA wants to hear about it.