WILKES-BARRE – City officials say they're continuing to investigate why the police department never notified Plains Township police that a car reported stolen at the Mohegan Sun Casino in 2011 had been recovered in Wilkes-Barre.
The incident, involving Eric Sutter, 27, of Harding, is among at least two cases in which city police are known to have failed to notify the owner of a stolen vehicle that it had been recovered. The delays reportedly caused the owners to incur storage fees from the city's towing contractor, LAG Towing.
Last month, city Police Chief Gerry Dessoye acknowledged police never notified 82-year-old Natalie Aleo that her car, which was stolen in Plymouth on Dec. 10, had been recovered. Aleo didn't learn the car had been found until about a month later, when Leo Glodzik III, LAG's owner, called her.
Glodzik reportedly told Aleo she'd have to pay $1,700 in towing and storage fees to get her car. Glodzik has disputed that, saying he told Aleo that figure was an estimated repair cost.
In Sutter's case, he reported to Plains Township police his 2004 Hyundai Tiburon was stolen from Mohegan Sun Casino at 11:41 p.m. on Oct. 4, 2011, according to a copy of the Plains Township police report. Wilkes-Barre police found the car abandoned –with damage to its front end – on Livingston Lane in Wilkes-Barre the next day.
But Wilkes-Barre police never notified Plains Township the car had been found, according to the Plains Township report.
Sutter said he learned his car had been found a few days later, when he called around to various towers and discovered it was at LAG.
Sutter said a LAG employee told him he owed $250 for the tow plus a few days worth of storage fees. He didn't have that much money, so he left the car there.
It has remained at LAG ever since, continuing to rack up storage fees of $50 per day.
I gave up trying to get it last summer, Sutter said. The last time I went the fees were up to $600 or $800.
The situation is made worse, Sutter said, because he is still paying for the loan on the car.
I didn't want to ruin my credit, he said. I've been paying for it this whole time and I don't have it.
Sutter said he never got any official notification from police that his car was at LAG until Oct. 19, 2011 – 14 days after it was recovered. The police records department sent him a certified letter advising him the car had been towed for violation of parking and/or city ordinances.
Told of Sutter's case last week, Sgt. Joe Novak in the police records department said he could not explain why Plains Township police were not notified Sutter's car was recovered.
Sutter's car was entered as a stolen vehicle in a national crime database, according to the Plains Township report. Novak said that once Wilkes-Barre police ran the plate, it should have come back with a hit to advise them it was a stolen vehicle.
Novak also said he could not explain why it took two weeks to send Sutter the letter advising him of the car's whereabouts.
Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator for the city, said police are continuing to look into Sutter's case, but do not know yet what happened because they cannot locate the police report.
McLaughlin said the officers involved in the case were asked about it, but they cannot recall the details due to the age of the case.
The department does handle 40,000 plus calls a year and it is inevitable to have some calls for service where oversights occur. But as a city and a department, we correct them, try to minimize them in the future, and we carry on, McLaughlin said.
Sutter said he's angry about the delay in notifying him, and is questioning whether he should have been charged any fees, given his car was reported stolen. LAG's contract with the city says Glodzik is not permitted to charge victims of crime for towing their cars.
The circumstances surrounding Sutter's case would not necessarily qualify him as a crime victim under the city's interpretation of the terms of Glodzik's contract, however.
The Plains Township police report says Sutter reported the car was stolen. In an interview with a reporter, Sutter said the vehicle was taken, without his permission, by someone known to him who had gone to the casino with him and others.
The person later crashed the car and abandoned it on Livingston Lane, Sutter said. Sutter said he never pressed charges against the person.
He also said he never showed Glodzik a police report, which Sutter only recently obtained from Plains Township.
Contacted Thursday, Glodzik said a person must provide him some sort of proof a vehicle was stolen in order for a tow to be free – a stance Dessoye has supported.
They have to have a police report, and I need to verify it with the officer, Glodzik said. He didn't have either, just his word.
Glodzik confirmed he still has Sutter's car. He said he has kept the car because Sutter told him in 2011 that he planned to file a civil suit over the towing fees.
I was waiting for them to file something at the magistrate and I never received anything, he said.
At this point, Glodzik said the storage fees are more than the car is worth. He said he is willing to negotiate with Sutter to resolve the matter.
They left the car here over a year, he said. If he wants it, I'm willing to work out a reasonable offer.