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Firefly restaurant mired in towing controversy

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Photo: Video by ktnv.com

Firefly restaurant mired in towing controversy

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Mar 10, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Few things make drivers more mad than coming out to find their car towed. But often there's confusion as to who's really at fault.

Contact 13 has discovered another popular restaurant near the Las Vegas Strip where customers' cars are disappearing.

"My friend was getting proposed to that night, and we came for their engagement party."

Kari Cichoski was excited for an evening of tapas and congratulations in late January at Firefly restaurant on Paradise Road.

"Came in through here, circled around this way," Kari said, showing Darcy Spears the route she took when pulling into the restaurant. "I went around the building, and there's some parking back there. Lots of parking there but because it was a busy night it was full."

People driving into the Firefly lot are faced with a wide open space that they can just drive right through. Kari looked around and didn't see any towing signs.

"Circled around back around this way and just came right straight through here," and onto property not owned by Firefly.

Yet Kari knows caution is critical. She did see a sign posted over one parking spot.

"It says reserved at the bottom. So I knew that this was off limits. I shouldn't park here. But here I didn't see any signs. I just saw "Visitors" and I thought, I'm a visitor. I'm visiting. So? The building looked very quiet. The lights were off. No one was there. And I didn't see any sign right here. I parked right where this yellow truck is."

Through the dim parking lot and into Firefly she went. About two hours later, "I came out, all the cars were gone."

The sweetness of the engagement party had soured, "When I was walking back towards Firefly, I ran into two other people and they were like, 'Your car got towed too?'"

John Simmons owns Firefly. He told Contact 13 that multiple cars were towed that night. He said towing is tapping his tapas business. He sees multiple cars towed on multiple nights, especially when the restaurant has a big event.

So he's posted signs in his lot warning his customers, "We have our hostesses at the door physically tell people. Hey where did you park? If you parked next door, you know, on a busy night, if you parked next door you better move your car."

When it gets busy, John's staff can't get the message to everyone, so they try something else. But he said his efforts have been sabotaged, "We've put up some cones there to create a barrier and they disappear. We put up a sign on our property here on a post and that disappeared."

Fast Towing is the company contracted by Firefly's next door neighbor to tow cars from their lot.

Contact 13 scheduled an on-camera interview with Fast Towing, but when we showed up, company representatives refused to talk.

We also contacted the Nevada Transportation Authority. They said about seven cars were towed that January night. Two people, including Kari, filed complaints.

In her complaint, Kari called the signage terrible, saying it didn't clearly communicate that Firefly customers couldn't park there. But the NTA found the signs to be sufficient.

"Did they demand cash or did they give you payment options?" asked Darcy.

"Nope. I asked them do you accept Visa? I have a Visa. And they said, 'No, it's cash only. We have an ATM right there.' And the ATM charges $7."

"$7 fee to get your money out? Sounds like highway robbery," said Darcy.

"Yeah it was just insane," said Kari. She put that in her complaint too, since a new law requires towing companies to accept all forms of payment.

But the Transportation Authority said Fast Towing showed them evidence that they do take debit and credit cards.

So in this case, the state found Fast Towing's actions were perfectly legal. Drivers like Kari still feel the pinch after having their cars plucked.

"You feel like they were kind of setting people up by those small signs and just sort of lurking in the shadows and waiting for people to go inside so they could tow them away?" asked Darcy.

"Absolutely. I absolutely think that," said Kari.

The Transportation Authority is asking Fast Towing to install more signs to clear up any future confusion. They said this is a reminder that you need look very carefully before you park.

Contact 13 also spoke with the Siegel Group, which owns the property just north of Firefly where cars are being towed. They declined an on-camera interview, saying they offered to negotiate with Firefly, but haven't been able to reach an agreement.

If you believe you've been the victim of an illegal tow, we want to hear from you. Email us at 13investigates@ktnv.com.

You should also file a formal complaint with the Nevada Transportation Authority.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.