Towing Company Owner Accused of Tax Fraud

Police say they used the
Police say they used the "Al Capone way" to stall the operation of George King, the owner of an Arlington towing company. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2005

For many people who park in Arlington County, the owner of Frank's Towing and Recovery was long ago branded Public Enemy No. 1.

County police said they were well aware of the company's tendency to overcharge motorists. Criminal charges failed to stick, and fines were not paid. The behavior didn't change, police said.

And so, after complaints continued to pour in about Frank's Towing and owner George King, police settled on another method, one they referred to as the "Al Capone way."

King, a former Arlington police officer, was arrested yesterday, this time on 20 counts of tax fraud. If convicted on all counts, King, 45, of Woodbridge, could face up to 20 years in prison and $50,000 in fines. He is also due back in court next week on another matter: for unpaid fines levied against him by a judge four years ago for overcharging motorists.

"It is very satisfying to see the [tax] charges filed," said Amy Barr, an investigator who spent a year poring over King's records to build the case. "We took the time and the effort to do this right for the community . . . and we have stopped this business, at least for right now." Barr added that "the Capone way" refers to the fact that the notorious gangster of the 1920s and 1930s was ultimately convicted of income tax evasion.

The complaints against King and his business cut to the heart of Arlington's quality of life. With parking at a premium near popular nightspots along Wilson and Clarendon boulevards, people sometimes park where they shouldn't and are towed.

But no company seemed to generate as much bitterness as Frank's Towing, which has also been accused of pouncing on vehicles moments after motorists park their cars. King could not be reached for comment because he was being held in jail without bond yesterday. It could not be learned last night whether he had retained an attorney. He is to be arraigned today.

Arlington officials have long complained that people are vulnerable to price gouging by tow truck operators because a loophole in federal law prohibits local and state governments from exercising strong oversight. Efforts are underway to change the law.

Through July 2004, the most recent data available, county officials received 48 complaints about Frank's Towing, most regarding overcharges.

The state cap, about $95, is often violated, police said. King said in an interview last year that he didn't believe he was breaking the law by sometimes charging $120. County officials said towing companies are required to comply with the state cap.

Although other towing companies have also been accused of charging more than the state cap, Arlington's chief prosecutor, Richard E. Trodden, said in an interview last year that "there seems to be a pattern with Frank's Towing."

Being towed by Frank's angered one Herndon man so much that he fought back by creating a satirical Web site. A phone number for its founder, Josh Burnell, could not be located, and he did not return an e-mail yesterday.

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