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DRIVER ARRESTED IN FREEWAY TOWING SCHEME.

Byline: Patricia Farrell Aidem Daily News Staff Writer

A Palmdale tow-truck driver has been arrested on suspicion of extortion, accused of hauling cars off Santa Clarita freeways without authorization then demanding exorbitant fees from motorists, officials said Wednesday.

Joseph Gould, a driver for a Los Angeles-based towing company, admitted he had been working in the area for the past four months, monitoring a police scanner then rushing to tow stranded motorists off area freeways, California Highway Patrol Officer Dave Pokorny said.

Gould, who is being held on $45,000 bail, is believed to be one of a number of tow-truck drivers who falsely claimed to be working under CHP authority, Pokorny said. Gould was booked Tuesday on suspicion of extortion, theft by false pretenses and perjury, because he carried a falsified driver's license, the officer said.

``They tell the drivers that they were called by the CHP and they must tow their vehicle immediately off the freeway,'' Pokorny said. ``They would hook it up and order the person inside the tow truck.''

Vehicles were towed to the vehicle owner's home or to a gas station where the driver would demand a cash payment of $150 to $300, compared to a typical fee of $75 for the service, Pokorny said.

``If the person doesn't have it, they threatened to take their vehicle and leave them on the side of the road,'' he said. ``They're using fear and force to obtain money from people.''

Based on Gould's information, investigators believe there are numerous victims who have not come forward. So far, two motorists have accused the company.

``These victims are really scared,'' Pokorny said. ``In one case they hooked up a disabled vehicle with the guy still sitting in his car.''

Pokorny urged any motorists who believe they were victimized by an illegal tow service to call the local CHP station at (805) 294-5540.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 5, 1998
Words:312
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