The contracted Seaside Heights towing company that is accused of illegally towing cars and boats and price gouging after Hurricane Sandy has reached a settlement. The New Jersey Attorney General's Office, along with the state's Division of Consumer Affairs, released the details of the APK Towing settlement to Examiner.com today (Monday) exactly 10 weeks after the superstorm devastated the Jersey shore community. "Our settlement does not require APK to cease operations," Jeff Lamm, a spokesperson for the Consumer Affairs confirms to us.
In addition, the settlement lays out that the state has assessed a fine of more than $15,000 on APK for costs associated with the investigation. It's a fine the company may never end up paying. "The $15,669 payment is suspended and will be vacated after one (1) year, but will become payable if APK Towing fails to comply with the settlement terms," the settlement states. Those terms include the following:
"APK Towing also agreed to adhere to the state’s Consumer Fraud Act and Predatory Towing Prevention Act under terms of the Consent Order. Among other things, APK Towing agreed not to offer for sale or sell merchandise at an excessive price increase during a state of emergency or within thirty (30) days after the termination of the state of emergency."
Today's settlement is a follow up to an initial settlement, announced on November 20, 2012, deal between APK Towing and the state. That agreement had the tower returning cars and boats to their rightful owners free of charge. Details of the settlement confirm about 50 cars and boats were never claimed, likely due their condition which is believed beyond repair. "The owners of unclaimed vehicles or watercraft still in APK Towing’s possession will receive notification that their vehicles or watercraft will be sold if not reclaimed within 21 days of receiving notice. If not claimed, the State will scrap the vehicles and use the proceeds to reimburse any owners who previously paid APK to retrieve their vehicles prior to the November 20 agreement."
Several tow victims, we spoke with today after the settlement announcement, said they were surprised by the outcome of the Attorney General's investigation. "Wow. Not the outcome I was hoping," Tina Simon tells Examiner.com. "So now the State will sell off the vehicles or water craft left over to pay those victims back. Doesn't seem all that fair to me. They didn't even get a fine, they are supposed to pay court costs but won't have to unless they comply. Seems like they got a slap on the wrist if you ask me." After Sandy, Simon won't be calling Seaside Heights home anymore, either. "Coming home to find my car missing like that was like a kick to the stomach, didn't feel quite like home to me anymore. I felt as though the home I knew was violated. Sandy took away our beach and APK took my feeling of home. Pretty crappy feeling."
The timing of the settlement announcement is also hard to ignore. It comes on the exact same day Seaside Heights residents, many of them whose vehicles were towed by APK, are allowed to begin repopulating the shore community for the first time since the storm.
ALL STORIES RELATED TO POST-SANDY APK TOWING ISSUES:
- Seaside Heights mayor breaks silence on APK Towing accusations
- APK Towing returns impounded vehicles to Seaside Heights residents for free
- APK Towing employee fired over Seaside Heights billing 'mistakes' post-Sandy
- Video shows heavy police activity at APK Towing; Computer confiscated
- Tow company offers free tows to APK Towing victims in Seaside Heights
- APK Towing admits price gouging in Seaside Heights; Sets flat rate and refunds
- Seaside Heights: APK Towing lot now an active crime scene
- Ocean County Prosecutor's Office seeks APK towing victims in Seaside Heights
- Seaside Heights police launch investigation into APK towing
- Seaside Heights-approved towing company APK accused of ripping off Sandy victims