Ronnie Polaneczky: The turn of the screwed, Philly-style

Marco Federico looks longingly at the not-much of what's left of his stolen and stripped Chevy C-1500 pickup truck.
Marco Federico looks longingly at the not-much of what's left of his stolen and stripped Chevy C-1500 pickup truck.
Posted: June 15, 2011

THIS IS ONE of those "life-in-the-big-city" tales in which you know you've been screwed, but don't know if it was a one-person operation or a group effort.

Marco Federico was unquestionably screwed by the dirtbag who stole his 1998 Chevy C-1500 pickup truck from Carlisle Street in South Philly. But did the same guy strip the truck?

And, my, what a coincidence that the truck went missing from Carlisle during the same period that the city was towing vehicles off the street!

"It's weird to me," says Federico, 31, who lives at Broad and Reed streets and bikes to his architect job in Northern Liberties. His truck would sit for days without his using it.

Such was the case on May 18. Federico went to get the truck and saw that temporary no-parking signs had been placed on the 1300 block of South Carlisle Street (between Wharton and Reed streets) - after he'd parked there - so that private work crews could mill the street. His truck was gone. Assuming that it had been towed, he went to the 17th District, at 20th and Federal, to find out where it was. The thing is, when it comes to roadwork, the tow truck is supposed to move the car to a spot on a nearby block instead of to a tow lot, and then tell the cops where it is.

But Federico says that the first officer knew nothing about the resurfacing job. The next day, he says, a second officer knew of the milling but said that there was no paperwork about which vehicles had been towed where. On his third visit, a different officer said that a vehicle that "sort of matched" had been towed to 17th and Carpenter, eight blocks away.

Federico pedaled off to get it.

It wasn't there.

After spending days biking between the two spots, looking for his Chevy - he used a map and a highlighter, so he wouldn't search the same blocks twice - he reported his truck stolen.

Last Thursday, an officer in the Police Department's neighborhood-services unit found the truck on Roosevelt Boulevard near Godfrey Street, in the Northeast, stripped and inoperable. A tow truck from Aspite Auto and Salvage Auction was called to haul it off the road.

The next day, Federico's insurance company, Geico, called to let him know that the truck had been found. (Insurance companies have access to the Police Department's stolen-vehicle information; when Federico's found vehicle was logged into the computerized system, Geico got an alert).

This past Monday, when Federico finally got a lift to Aspite (from yours truly) to inspect his mess'o'metal, he learned that he owed Aspite $150 for towing and an $18-per-day "storage" fee.

Says Federico, "Something is off here."

* * *

So I phoned Steve Buckley, the Streets Department deputy commissioner overseeing transportation. He was so puzzled by Federico's story, he reviewed the Carlisle Street towing records, saw that the truck was not listed there and called me to see if he'd not gotten the tag information wrong.

"It's just not there," he said.

Nor could a spokeswoman for Norton Towing, which cleared Carlisle Street, find a record of Federico's vehicle, either.

So, why was Federico sent to 17th and Carpenter?

"If he got conflicting information from the police, that's something we need to look into," said Buckley. "If he can give us officers' names, we can look into it."

Unfortunately, Federico didn't think to write them down, as he was intent on finding the truck he'd bought a year ago for $4,500 in cash, which took him four years to save.

Buckley said that he'd never heard a story like Federico's, although, a handful of times per year, it might take an owner a little while to find his relocated car. Mostly in dense neighborhoods like South Philly and Fairmount, where towers can have a hard time finding a nearby spot to move a relocated vehicle.

A "handful of times" seems like a good track record in a city that resurfaces 80 to 100 miles of road per year.

As for that $234 storage fee, Officer Richard Meissler, of the police auto-recovery unit, said that it "doesn't seem right" that the victim of auto theft should be hit with such a whopping fee.

"But that's a whole other story," over which the department has no control, he said.

* * *

Instead of paying the fee, Federico signed over his truck's title to Aspite, and I gave him a lift back to work. On the way, he surmised that rogue towing operators hear about resurfacing projects, then hit the designated street to steal what they can.

"With cars being moved already, who'd suspect?" he said.

He looked the way he must've felt.

Screwed.



Email polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Ronnie. Read Ronnie's blog at www.philly.com/RonnieBlog.

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