Some Chicago drivers who have had their cars towed got a little victory this week after the Illinois Commerce Commission, a state oversight agency, revoked the license of Lincoln Towing Service.
The ICC has received thousands of complaints about the company over the years. ICC spokeswoman Victoria Crawford said the agency launched an investigation in 2016 based on those complaints. She said that between July 2015 and March 2016, the ICC found evidence of more than 800 illegal property seizures.
"Lincoln Towing Service has not conducted its business with honesty and integrity and is unworthy to hold a commercial vehicle relocators' license," she said.
The company's bad reputation spans decades. Steve Goodman even wrote a song about them in 1972 called "Lincoln Park Pirates."
"To me way, hey. Tow them away. We plunder the streets of your town," he sang.
Lincoln Towing did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. But at a 2016 hearing before a Chicago city council committee, attorney Allen Perl, who has represented Lincoln Towing for more than 20 years, made it clear he was not a fan of the song.
"If you want to get something resolved with Lincoln Towing, don't cite the Lincoln Towing song to me. That doesn't mean anything to me. My client was 10 years old at the time," he said.
The current ownership took over the company in 1993. In official papers, Perl said the business is fit to operate.
William Rankin, a retired school principal, begged to differ. He owns a commercial property on Chicago's North Side. He once had a contract with Lincoln Towing to manage his small parking lot.
"The contract clearly stated that I had to be on the spot, show them the car and point it out before they towed it," he said.
Rankin wasn't stingy about the lot. He allowed young workers from a nearby barbecue eatery to park there. Lincoln Towing hauled their cars away without his permission.
"These are kids that are working for minimum wage, and for them to come up with $200 to retrieve their car was just terrible," he said.
Rankin said it got even worse. He let an elderly neighbor who was undergoing cancer treatment park behind his building. Lincoln took that car, too.
"It was wintertime and the snow was about a foot and a half, 2 feet deep, and he had to get on two buses to go down and retrieve his car and of course, pay the $200 and some dollars they charged him," he said.
Rankin said the company promised reimbursements, but the checks didn't come.
"I think that was their modus operandi, too. If someone complained, they'd make a promise and just not follow through on the promise. These people were thieves, and there's no other way to put it," he said.
Rankin's experience is similar to hundreds of others who filed complaints against Lincoln Towing. He was overjoyed when the ICC unanimously voted 5-0 to revoke Lincoln's relocators' license this week.
But the saga isn't quite over yet. There's a line in the "Lincoln Park Pirates" song that goes, "no one can make us shut down." The company has requested a rehearing with the ICC, and it's filed a motion in Cook County court to resume operations while the commission decides to whether to review the case.
Rankin said he's willing to continue the fight. But in the meantime, he no longer contracts with a towing company to oversee his private lot. He simply leaves a note for violators.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Having your car towed is a pain. Having your car towed by an infamous towing company in Chicago that has terrorized motorists for half a century - a pain all its own. This week, Chicago drivers honked sighs of relief when the state revoked Lincoln Towing's license and demanded the company immediately cease operations. From member station WBEZ, Susie An has the story. And as you'll hear, Lincoln made one aggrieved driver so angry she refused to use profanity.
SUSIE AN, BYLINE: Lincoln Towing Service is one of the biggest towing companies in Chicago with about 20,000 parking lot contracts. Here's what some customers had to say about them.
CHRISTINE PRICE: A rather large tow truck ran through the intersection, full speed, red light, and if anyone had been there, they would have been obliterated.
BRIAN RICHARDS: I have two tenants of mine that had their cars towed. I drove them down to the tow center, and I paid for each of their vehicles.
ABBY AMY: I received vulgarities and told that if I wanted my vehicle multiple times that I was going to have to effing pay - excuse my language - I refuse to use profanity.
AN: That was Christine Price, Brian Richards and Abby Amy testifying before a Chicago City Council committee in 2016 about Lincoln Towing. William Rankin helped lead the charge against the company. He's a retired school principal who owns a commercial building on the city's north side. He hired Lincoln Towing to manage his small lot, but he claims they hauled cars away without his permission. In one incident, he had let an elderly neighbor who was undergoing cancer treatment park behind his building. Lincoln took away his car.
WILLIAM RANKIN: It was wintertime. The snow was about a foot and a half, two feet deep, and he had to get on two buses to go down and retrieve his car and, of course, pay the 200 and some dollars they charged him.
AN: Rankin says the company promised reimbursements, but the checks didn't come.
RANKIN: I think that was their modus operandi, too. If somebody complained, they'd make a promise and then just not follow through on the promise. These people were thieves, and there's no other way to put it.
AN: You know it's bad when there's even a song about it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LINCOLN PARK PIRATES")
STEVE GOODMAN: (Singing) To me away, hey, tow them away. We plunder the streets of your town...
AN: That's "Lincoln Park Pirates," a song written by Steve Goodman in 1972. Attorney Allen Perl represents Lincoln Towing, and he's clearly not a fan of that song. Here he is testifying before the city council in 2016.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ALLEN PERL: And if you want to get something resolved with Lincoln Towing, don't cite the Lincoln Towing song to me. That doesn't mean anything to me. My client was 10 years old at the time.
AN: Perl didn't respond to multiple requests for an interview, but in official filings, he defends the company and says it operates lawfully. Since then, the Illinois Commerce Commission has received hundreds of complaints about the company. ICC spokeswoman Victoria Crawford says it found that between July of 2015 to March of 2016 the company made more than 800 illegal tows.
VICTORIA CRAWFORD: Lincoln Towing Service has not conducted its business with honesty and integrity and is unworthy to hold a commercial vehicle relocators license.
AN: On Wednesday, the ICC voted unanimously to revoke Lincoln's license. But frustrated Chicago drivers may wait before celebrating. There's a line in the "Lincoln Park Pirate" song that goes no one can make us shut down. And indeed, Lincoln Towing is requesting another hearing before the Commerce Commission and has filed a motion in Cook County court to resume operations. William Rankin says he's willing to continue the fight.
RANKIN: It's eternal vigilance, you know, but I'm an old man. I don't know how for long I'll be around.
AN: For his private parking lot, Rankin no longer works with a towing company. He simply leaves a note on the windshield for parking violators. For NPR News, I'm Susie An.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LINCOLN PARK PIRATES")
GOODMAN: (Singing) Always collect our fees... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.