BOZEMAN — The owner of a tow truck company in Belgrade is accused of charging excessive fees and refusing to return five vehicles towed from a Bozeman condominium building.
Jeffrey Nicholas McCown appeared in Gallatin County Justice Court Wednesday on five counts of theft of property.
MTN News interviewed McCown as part of an investigation into a tow truck being shot at in Bozeman on Sunday. Police cited this interview in court documents when establishing McCown as the owner of the company.
According to court documents, Bozeman police responded to the 1700 block of West Kagy Avenue around 2:40 p.m. on Sunday to investigate the report of a tow truck being shot.
Court documents say prior to the shooting, McCown’s tow company was about to tow a car parked in the fire lane of Hawks Ridge Condominiums. The owner of the car reportedly asked the tow driver if he could move it. The tow driver reportedly put the tow truck bar on the car and said it would be $400 to release it on scene.
At this time, an unidentified person shot the tow truck in the driver-side door. The tow truck left the scene with the man’s car. Police continue to investigate the shooting.
The owner of the car reportedly later received an invoice from McCown’s tow company for $5,103.
The man was told by the tow company that $4,000 of that amount was for damage to the truck, although the owner was not involved in causing the damage.
Court documents detail four other similar cases involving vehicles towed between Friday and Sunday of last week:
The owner of a 2002 Toyota 4Runner says he was given an invoice for $2,653 with $1,500 for damages that the tow company allegedly would not explain.
The owner of a 2008 Subaru Impreza claims he was invoiced for the same amount, again with $1,500 for damages and no information about the damage for which he was being charged.
A man whose 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix was towed by McCown’s company reported he was charged $2,603 to retrieve his car, with a $1,500 damage fee.
A woman who said her son was driving her 2013 Ford Fusion when it was towed says she was invoiced $2,603 that included a $1,500 damage fee.
In each case, the tow company reportedly refused to lower or remove the fees.
On Monday, officers spoke with McCown at the tow company’s location. When asked why these five vehicles were being charged much more than other paid invoices, McCown allegedly said he was charging the damage fees because his company needed to recoup its losses.
McCown also allegedly said that it was reasonable to charge the owners for damages even though they didn’t cause it. According to court documents, McCown said that because the people parked in the fire lane, he had to be there to tow them, and it was therefore their fault his trucks were damaged.
The reporting officer said in court documents the tow company typically charges around $150 to tow vehicles from Hawks Ridge.
Montana code allows a tow provider to charge a lien for the “reasonable cost of the towing or storage” of a vehicle, payable by the owner. Police determined, based on a review of paid tow invoices, McCown and the company “are charging fees in addition to the reasonable cost of towing and storage” of the five vehicles, court documents say.
McCown allegedly refused to lower the fees or return the vehicles and was arrested on five counts of felony theft.
In court Wednesday, McCown said he was not the owner of the towing company; law enforcement identifies him as the owner in charging documents.
The reporting officer also said in court documents that after a search warrant for the tow company was granted, officers seized, photographed, and returned the vehicles to their owners.
Prosecutors said in court revthat McCown was convicted in 2011 for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. His next court date is March 27.