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Toms River Council Denies License to Embattled Towing Company [VIDEO]

Three of five towing license applications were approved by the township Tuesday

Toms River will not allow the towing company accused of wrongfully removing cars from Seaside Heights following Superstorm Sandy to tow for the municipality. 

APK Towing and Auto Repair, based in Toms River, was accused of taking cars from private property in Seaside Heights and price gouging following the October 2012 storm. While not held at fault, a settlement reached in January with the state Division of Consumer affairs ordered those who had their vehicles towed by APK to be reimbursed. 

Michael Botton, the attorney representing APK, asked why the council on Tuesday night declined approval to grant one of five available licenses to his client, since he said that the company met all of the requirements put forth in the township towing ordinance and was in "complete compliance." 

"[APK has] been cleared of all allegations by the [Ocean County] Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. This council should approve their application because their application is in compliance with the ordinance," Botton said. 

"Thank you for your comments. We don't agree," Council President George Wittmann told Botton.

The Toms River Police Department performs checks on each of the applicants. Cpl. Thomas Leach said that "the issue with APK stems from the interactions with customers during the storm."

Township attorney Kenneth Fitzsimmons said that residents had been to previous Toms River council meetings to "report on the actions of APK."

"Your company didn't perform well and we didn't want a company like that being retained by the township of Toms River," he said.

Three-year licenses were awarded to Accurate Towing and Priced Rite Towing. A conditional license was awarded to Freedom Towing and Recovery granted they improve signage on their vehicles. APK and Grone's Wrecker Service were denied. 

"Eligibility is conditioned on a number of criteria, many of which relate to equipment standards," said Anthony Merlino, assistant township attorney in Toms River, in an email to Patch last week. The township code for towing licenses, updated in September of 2012, "now provides that fraudulent or illegal activity of any kind is a ground for rejection. All of these factors were taken into account in the review of the five applications.

"However, I can state that APK's actions following Hurricane Sandy weighed heavily in the ultimate decision," Merlino said.

Botton said in a statement last week that his clients have proven they are "qualified" for the job, having passed four separate inspections to obtain the license since applying in February 2012.

"My clients are confident that if their experience, qualifications and proven willingness to meet the township’s standards are reviewed in a fair manner by the Township Council, they will obtain a township license for towing along with any and all other qualified companies that have submitted a bid," said Michael Botton, the attorney representing APK owners Matthew Zucaro and Jason McGee.

Botton said Tuesday night that there is no litigation pending in Seaside Heights, though last week he indicated that APK has filed a Notice of Claim against the borough.

Botton has said that his clients did nothing wrong and were following instructions from a Seaside Heights official when Sandy hit. 

"On the date of the hurricane, my clients were instructed, specifically by James Samarelli, Coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management, to remove every vehicle off of the island, no matter where it was, and to bill the owner for the service," 

In January, a settlement was reached between APK and the state Division of Consumer Affairs, under which the owners of the about 50 unclaimed vehicles and watercraft in APK's possession were given 21 days to claim their items before they are sold by the state for scrap. The proceeds from those sales will be used to reimburse the vehicle owners who had paid APK to retrieve their property prior a November 2012 agreement.

That initial agreement allowed for the return of more than 70 vehicles and watercraft to their registered owners at no charge. But some had already paid APK "significant sums" to reclaim their property before the agreement between APK and the state was reached, according to the Division of Consumer Affairs. The agency said that is likely the unclaimed items were left by owners because they were damaged beyond repair and were covered by the owners' insurance.

Also under the settlement, APK was assessed $15,669 for the state’s investigative costs, a fee that is suspended and will be vacated after one year, but will become payable if APK fails to comply with the settlement terms, officials have said. 

Johnjcpa February 28, 2013 at 02:21 PM
You might do well to quote a news release where the official that they claim made such a statement doesn't deny making that statement. And you could point out the reason that that official would demand cars be towed that were not on public roads and blocking clean up efforts would be towed. As far as I have seen, the contract they had prior to the storm had very specific rates and they charged much higher amounts when people went to reclaim their vehicles.
Concerned citizen February 28, 2013 at 03:22 PM
The state attorney general as well as the ocean county prosecutor has confirmed that the cars were ordered to be towed. Every car ordered to be towed because containing flammable substances over leaking gas mains was hazardous. The town is in negotiations to pay apk which reinforces my point that the cars were ordered to be towed, private property and public streets. The rates that you read about 105 and 25 a day are off an old ordinance which is misquoted by the town. The state attorney general has the ordinance, reviewed the bills and were all exactly off the current ordinance. Originally the town agreed with the state to pay for the tows, which is why apk gave the cars back. Not because they bribed the state or admitted any wrongdoing. Still waiting for a legitimate complaint on the situation.
Officer930 February 28, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Even if APK was cleared during that whole thing the owners n workers at that company are rude n careless towards locals. I stopped in and made a complaint about where they were parking the cars on the corner of Adams ave. And Coolidge ave. You couldn't see down the road when pulling out of the intersection I expressed my concern for safety and I was met with rude responses such as what are u the parking police or the head of the neighborhood watch mind ur business its not ur concern. So I'm glad the town turned them down cause they don't care about or respect the local toms river residents. Let's also not forget the owners previous problems he had in north jersey which is why he now operates in ocean county under a different name
Officer930 February 28, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Ohh yeah another thing a good way to prove u didn't price gouge is to sue the town that just lost everything and can hardly afford to rebuild for 2.6 million dollars thats a good way to show ur support for the locals
Concerned citizen February 28, 2013 at 05:18 PM
To all locals please educate yourself. First of apk isn't suing seaside at all. They put a claim in to have the bill for towing the cars paid. Which there is a document that the state witnessed created by Cameron, borough administrator, which magically disappeared. There is no law suit pending at this time. Toms river attourney fitsimmons also believed the lawsuit to be true with his comment made at counsel. Does fitsimmons really base his decisions for the town on what the paper says? Very unprofessional in my opinion. A complaint on the cars isn't justification of a denial in a court of law for rudeness. I ve been by there recently and all cars are removed.
Stan Buchwald March 02, 2013 at 12:02 AM
I knoW this thread is too long and most won't see this but the plain truth of the matter is this. While it is true this company was not charged with a crime,so to Speke. There was and investigation and a settlement reached. That means there were thing done incorrectly. Now as long as the firm in question complys with the settlement and is than cleared in the future they can than apply for a township license. The way this firm conducted its busisness during this disaster and it's treatment of the public is grounds enough for the down to say no. It should not be a matter of the courts. To those on this thread who are advocating for this firm are no doubt employed by or are family members of those employed by this company. To that I say they may be very decent people that work for a not so good person,and leave it at that. Clean up your act, APK, and try again in 3 years.
ed crowley March 02, 2013 at 01:37 AM
I do not work or know anyone at APK, I do not advocate forthem . I am just looking for answers. So far none of my questions have been answered .Has there been any release of reports by any agency? Till those reports are released how do we know what happened and who is responsible. The reporters have not been able to find out who allowed APK access to the area. Who told those guarding the bridge to let them across?
Concerned citizen March 02, 2013 at 03:02 AM
Good questions and comments. To Stan I do not work for apk or am related to anyone at apk. I just read the facts. Your not correct with your statement that the investigation is the reasoning that anything was done incorrectly. The settlement was reached with ssh first before the tow company. The only settlement reached was to release the cars at no cost and the town to pay for them. Settlement does not mean anything was incorrectly done period. Apk will win in court since the state attourney general will release their reports showing nothing but good interactions with the residents in seaside. Watch and see apk will win this dispute in court. Toms river will owe apk for discrimination and the loss of the contract. Toms river arrogance will be their downfall. This will cost tax payers in toms river. Apk will not have to wait three years after the courts rule.
Concerned citizen March 02, 2013 at 03:09 AM
To Ed I am glad that your making more sense then the person before you. It is true toms river aloud apk to enter the bridge to tow 200 cars. Attorney general wouldn't have reached a settlement if there was any wrongdoing period. No exceptions. Which proves apk did absolutely nothing period. And yes how can toms river make any educated decision without these reports. Truth is they cannot and made a unjust decision. Apk will win in court, not wait three years, and cost the taxpayers money when they win. Toms river needs facts not news articles before they had any right to deny apk.
grace March 07, 2013 at 04:18 PM
you are really ridiculous.. me thinks you part of apk...samarelli did his job and he did it well...like to see someone else do what he and the firemen and police of seaside heights did..prevented loss of life for sure...now stop trying to blame someone else...he certainly didnt tell them to triple their rates for a tow
grace March 07, 2013 at 04:20 PM
thats right dear ole dad got the boy this gig
grace March 07, 2013 at 04:22 PM
ok whatever..but to overcharge citizens like that is a crime and maybe all that cashed raked in will be accounted for too? irs here comes another one for you
Bruce Engelhard March 07, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Concerned Citizen, I love how if you do not like someone's post you call them ignorant. You say attorney general will release reports showing nothing but good interactions with residents is laughable....btw its not aloud, its allowed. Toms River has EVERY right to deny APK
Concerned citizen March 12, 2013 at 10:19 PM
I didn't call everyone ignorant. Actually if you read my previous post I thanked two individuals for their comments. What's this overcharging you speak if? Do you have any facts to back up your claim? I d bet that consumer affairs has facts that contradict your false claim that apk overcharged anyone. If apk did then they would have been prosecuted. Has far as apk s dealing with their taxes I m sure they will follow the laws like they did this entire story. If you don't want to be called ignorant and uneducated then please show me your facts to back up your bias opinions. What right to deny apk if there is no justification. "Actions in seaside" not a valid reason to deny a contract if the ocean county prosecutor and consumer affairs found no wrongdoing. Please educate me on how this is just cause for a denial.
Bruce Engelhard March 12, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Please, charging somebody $700-$1000 to get their car is outrageous....you sir, are the ignorant one
Concerned citizen March 13, 2013 at 01:08 AM
I would disagree. It is a fact that the town set the rates and that apk towing has followed those rates. Is that not a true statement? Am I the ignorant one because I can read between the lines. It is also my understanding that companies in the town besides apk also were charging the same if not more to remove flood vehicles. Why is 700 to 1000 outrageous if the town of seaside sets the rates? I am still awaiting legitimate reasons for this denial not ignorant uneducated comments like the post before this.
Concerned citizen March 19, 2013 at 02:24 AM
Hey did everyone read the paper today? Turns out they were told to tow all the cars. What no comments? Why should they be denied a tow contract if they were following orders?
Bruce Engelhard March 19, 2013 at 12:04 PM
Oh I read it, looks like Samerelli and APK were in bed together now it hits the fan and they are covering their butts...maybe if you read closer you would've seen where APK had other violations that precluded them from being granted the contract.
Concerned citizen March 19, 2013 at 01:41 PM
Like I previously stated consumer affairs as well as ocean county prosecutor cleared apk of any price gouging. You do know that was their sole purpose of their investigation and they found no wrong doing. That's a state and county agency both agreeing that apk did nothing wrong. Are you saying that they are guilty no matter what? If so it's the people like yourself that need to go back to school and get an education. It's never too late. I think you yourself bke should read a little closer and find out the meaning of "accused of" and "found no wrongdoing".
Concerned citizen March 19, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Please can you state these violations with any factual basis? Or just more opinions that apk is guilty no matter what.
grace March 19, 2013 at 02:04 PM
correct bke and no one was told to overcharge and steal from suffering residents of seaside etc..apk chose to do that
Bruce Engelhard March 19, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Again with the insults from one who either has the wool pulled over their eyes or is the pot calling the kettle black. Consumer Affairs wanted to make these people whole again, if litigation was going to take place it would have been months and months before these people would not have gotten their vehicles back..that's a fact. APK and Samerelli obviously had more than a business relationship with APK planning to hire him and they served on the the Fire Co together. I would think the councilman also would not make the statement that APK had other violations that precluded them from getting the contract if he did not have that info. You sir, need to read between the lines. Just because you may not agree with someone doesn't give you the right to sling mud like a scorned 3 yr old
TRWatch March 19, 2013 at 02:26 PM
It all comes down to this, if I told you to jump off of the George Washington Bridge, would you do it?
grace March 19, 2013 at 02:49 PM
well seems to me noone was told to remove garaged boats cars in driveways etc..ok and the order to get the cars off the island if true saved how many peoples vehicles? i say thank you for that but why charge so much money? o apk get over it
Bruce Engelhard March 19, 2013 at 03:02 PM
Cars were removed after the storm, not prior to
1stcav March 19, 2013 at 03:28 PM
$$$$$ orders are orders$$$$$$ from the EMC of SS , who has resigned before his Butt was hanging from a light post...But that leaves the towns Butt hanging & the people who hired APK and were ready to share there new $$$$$$ windfall...All served on the FD together...shame on those involved in this sham of public trust as the almighty buck wins again !!! Birds of a feather, do flock together...Mayor right on down to them..puts a bad light on the volunteer's in town...who do it to help there fellow man, not get perks after the fact , like price gouging...
Concerned citizen March 20, 2013 at 01:33 AM
All good comments at least some people are seeing the light. Orders are orders and if you served in the military you would know to follow them. Bottom line the order was given and followed directly by apk. Following orders isn't a justification for a denial. As far as price gouging if apk was guilty there's no making the public whole. They would have been prosecuted. There's no negotiation to appease the public . Are you inferring that apk bribed the state to satisfy the public? There are no legitimate reasons for a denial I m sure a judge will agree when this goes to trial. And bke cars were taken only after the storm not prior not sure your reasoning. Are we all in agreement that the order was given to take cars after the storm?
Bruce Engelhard March 20, 2013 at 02:47 AM
I clearly state previously cars were taken after the storm...A verbal order from a soon to be employee is very far from orders given in the military, if you can't tell the difference there then their is no reason to continue. How do you know their are no legitimate reasons for denial, are you saying the councilman lied? Consumer affairs wanted to make these people whole, they have stated that.
grace March 20, 2013 at 01:08 PM
citizens and victims of sandy were not allowed over the bridge..was a war zone over there..at least people could get to their cars...dont mind the order to get them out after all it was a nightmare..just dont like the way apk went about it..charges were absurd
Concerned citizen March 20, 2013 at 11:44 PM
Let me educate you of the facts. At the time the order was given by the oem coordinator. He was the one calling the shots. Are you familiar with his role? Do you know he has jurisdiction over the police department. Do you know he ordered the cars to be towed? Do you also know that the police also ordered the cars to be towed? Soon to be an employee or not he gave the order, along with the police department, to remove every car private property and the streets. Apk followed orders that's all there is to it. I am saying the counsel man had no facts just what he read in the paper. Clearly stated if you watch the online counsel meeting. Did you know he also stated that apk is suing seaside when in fact they aren't? Very unprofessional of the entire counsel. Did you know toms river counsel was playing there ritacco scheme for a year before the storm keeping their friends on and everyone else out? Facts are more appropriate then newspapers. Maybe you could inform the counsel of that.


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