Detectives have arrested a Lakeland couple they say operated a tow-truck company that blatantly overcharged non-consensual customers for towing services.
Eric Mahoney, 41, and his live-in-girlfriend and business partner, Laura Vincent, 38, were found during a 6-month investigation to have overcharged customers by thousands of dollars, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
The two were arrested last Friday, and each faces multiple counts of fraud and theft and 119 counts of violating the county's non-consensual towing ordinance.
According to investigators, Hunter's Transportation and Towing was on the county's rotational wrecker list and was called when vehicles needed to be removed after a crash or a law enforcement investigation. A county ordinance regulates how much a tow truck operator can charge for particular services, and Hunter's regularly overcharged customers, detectives say.
After receiving a tip in June, detectives audited Hunter's books and found that the wrecker service was called to scenes on 84 occasions. Of those, detectives recovered receipts from 34 incidents, and customers were overcharged by a total of $9,673, according to the arrest affidavits.
Hunter's Towing was dropped from the county's wrecker rotation in July.
"At a time when someone is having one of their worst days - for example, they've had a traffic crash - these two shysters were taking advantage of them," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. "And if they weren't over-billing citizens, they were over-billing insurance companies. It's not only unethical, it's illegal. And it is one more example of how criminal activity drives up prices and rates for everyone else."
The line item overcharged the most was for "crash wrap," which is a wrap used after a crash to prevent a vehicle from being exposed to the elements. On average, according to investigators, customers were overcharged seven times the maximum allowed for crash wrap.
One customer was charged $882.75 for a bill that should have maxed out at $400.25, and another $2,150.70 for services that should have been no more than $1,350.00, detectives say.
Mahoney also is accused of keeping a significant portion of the state sales tax Hunter's collected.
Detectives say that in the 34 cases they investigated, they've identified four people and 12 insurance companies that were victimized. They're looking into the charges for which they haven't recovered receipts.
According to the sheriff's office, Mahoney's criminal record includes 35 felony and 13 misdemeanor convictions - mostly for fraud and theft.