|From left to right, Keith Menin, Harold Rosen, |
Neisen Kasdin and Russell Galbut.
(Click here to enlarge.)
Just when you thought the tactics employed by Miami Beach's two city-sanctioned
There's a new twist to the ol' South Beach towing racket. At 17th Street and Lennox Avenue, just north of Lincoln Road, there's a parking lot that looks identical to scores of other nearby city-run lots. To pay, there's an electronic meter, just like all the city meters scattered around.
But here's the catch: The lot is privately owned, and if you pay in a nearby city meter instead of the one machine in the lot, Tremont Towing trucks are ready to pounce. The setup has led to scores of complaints and action by the city, which recently forced the owners to post more visible signs. "We had a rash of folks coming in [to complain]," Miami Beach Parking Director Saul Frances says.
In a town where cops use tourists on the beach as speed bumps, you'd think the people in charge at city hall would go out of their way to make sure Miami Beach's image doesn't take any more hits.
But this is Miami Beach; a place where a swank hotel hired a convicted felon to be its Goodwill ambassador.
In other words, what's unthinkable anywhere else, is perfectly acceptable in Miami Beach.
And that includes the movers and shakers at city hall, who work hand in glove with two firms that extort millions of dollars a year from Miami Beach visitors and residents.
In 1998, Miami New Times staffer Ted Kissell wrote, "The friendly folks in Miami Beach who tow away your car and charge you big bucks to get it back will do anything to preserve their monopoly. Absolutely anything."
And as Kissell reported in his piece, "anything" included enlisting the help of elected officials and getting the city's police chief at the time, Richard Barreto, to apply some pressure when Florida Parking Enforcment, an upstart booting company moved to town and started looking for new business.
Fifteen years after Kissell's piece ran, some of the people he wrote about are still around, including former Miami Beach mayor and attorney Harold Rosen, who still represents towing companies to this day.
Back in 1998, Rosen told Kissell, that Beach and Tremont, "[were] model corporate citizens whose de facto monopoly on Beach business is deserved."
From Kissell's piece:
"We contribute to the community," [Rosen] begins, speaking as though he is actually a partner in the businesses. "There isn't a charity that comes to us that we don't contribute to. We provide a service. We've been part of the community for twenty-some-odd years. Some people don't like us," he acknowledges. "They don't like towing. But we still contribute to the community. These booting companies, they don't contribute anything. They're down here to take what they can, and that's it basically."In 1998, when Kissell wrote his story, Tremont and Beach Towing charged drivers about $95 to retrieve a towed car. Last year both companies went before the city commission in an effort to hike the $205 cost per tow another $64.
“It’s really not this multi-million dollar profiting business that’s been implied, in an way shape or form, at least not in the last four years,” Andrew Mirmelli [told the Miami Herald's David Smiley.]
"[Mirmelli,] who says his mother recently invested in Tremont only to find that no one is making any money from Miami Beach tows," wrote Smiley.
(Coincidentally, Mirmelli is co-owner of M&M Parking Management, a company that owns the lot which figures in Tremont's latest scam written about by Frank Alvarado in New Times.)
Last November, the city commission issued new three-year contracts for both companies that included "fee hikes for visitors’ whose vehicles are towed on behalf of the city’s police and parking departments," reported the Herald's David Smiley:
In exchange, the two companies, which hold a monopoly on Miami Beach’s seemingly lucrative towing industry, agreed to new oversight measures.But not mentioned in Smiley's story is that the continued operation of Tremont and Beach Towing costs every Miami Beach taxpayer thousands of dollars a year.
Bottom line: Miami Beach residents aren’t affected and will continue to pay the standard $205 towing fee. But starting Dec. 1, visitors will now pay an average of $241 if their car is towed and released by the next day, according to the city. The city’s cut of each public tow increases to $30.
Commissioners Jerry Libbin, Ed Tobin and Mayor Matti Herrera Bower opposed the new contracts, largely because the city increased towing fees based on representations by the companies that they are losing money.
In January 2005, the Miami Herald reported, "In 2004, calls to police for assistance reached a new high: 958 calls from irate customers and towing employees alike. By comparison, the police received 614 calls in 2000. The number has grown steadily since then."
From the 2005 Herald story:
The calls and the complaints have become a public relations dilemma for the city and a drain on police.
"It definitely takes away from our resources, especially because we have to often send two officers to respond to a call," said police spokesman Bobby Hernandez.
So who's responsible for allowing these overt criminal enterprises to continue to do business on Miami Beach?
Look no further than Miami Beach City Hall.
The other day I had a brief phone conversation with Commissioner Michael Góngora, who also happens to be running for mayor.
I tried my best to get him to condemn the towing companies' practices. No such luck.
However, he did tell me that the towing companies are a "horrible, necessary evil." Huh?
Góngora, by the way, voted last November to give the towing companies their rate hike.
Oh...and now here's a real shocker!
Look at this photo (below) of Góngora at a recent social event, smiling his ass off while standing next to one Ralph Andrade.
Who's Ralph Andrade?, you ask.
Ralph Andrade is - get ready for it - Beach Towing's attorney and lobbyist.
|Beach Towing attorney Ralph Andrade and Miami Beach|
Commissioner Michael Góngora.
However, back in 1998, Andrade was a director at Florida Parking Enforcment, the very same company that tried to muscle-in on Beach Towing's territory. Are you starting to get the picture?
And, who are the other behind the scenes players in Miami Beach's parking and towing industry?
Remember, according to Andrew Mermelli, this is a business that no one is making any money from.
Well, for an industry that's not making any money, it sure as hell attracts some high rollers, including hotelier and real estate developer Keith Menin, who also owns part of Tremont, along with his uncle, developer Russell Galbut.
Menin is also a registered lobbyist with the Ciy of Miami Beach for Tremont.
But remember, this is Miami Beach. So while Menin owns part of a company whose practices do untold damage to Miami Beach's image, he also sits also on the board of the Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority, a body whose job it is to burnish Miami Beach's image.WTF???
The other two clowns pictured at the top of the page are former Miami Beach mayors Harold Rosen and Neisen Kasdin.
In 2005, Rosen was registered as a lobbyist for both Beach Towing and Tremont. His fee was listed as $350 per hour.
In 2008, Kasdin was also registered as a lobbyist for Tremont Towing.
For an industry that makes no money, it sure has some powerful and wealthy friends.
Miami New Times: Three Miami Beach Towing Horror Stories.