The city of San Francisco is moving to expedite earlier sanctions it leveled against an allegedly predatory towing company accused of installing fraudulent no parking signs in a bank parking lot — and then trespassing on private property to haul off customers’ cars without the bank’s permission. The victims of this purported scam were largely Spanish and Cantonese speakers, as well as a number of disabled drivers who were displaying placards within their cars.
City Attorney David Chiu initiated debarment proceedings against Auto Towing in August, a lengthy procedure that would result in the company being ineligible to bid on or receive city contracts for up to five years. Chiu’s office upped the ante on Feb. 2, moving to suspend the company, its ownership and its sister companies — an immediate move that bars Auto Towing from city contracts, even while the debarment proceedings are working their way through the legal system.
His filing comes after the District Attorney charged Auto Towing’s principals, Jose Badillo and Abigail Fuentes, in October with multiple felony counts, including welfare fraud, grand theft and perjury. The couple, who have children together, are accused of duplicitously applying for and receiving welfare funds from Medi-Cal, CalFresh and CalWORKS for themselves and their dependents between 2018 and 2023 — despite “jointly operating three tow businesses in San Francisco, generating over $2 million in gross annual income.”
Last week’s suspension order covers Badillo, Fuentes and Auto Towing CEO Juan Fuentes, as well as businesses Auto Towing, Jose’s Towing and Specialty Towing. Jail records show Badillo was booked on Oct. 7 for grand theft and obtaining aid by misrepresentation.
An affidavit produced by a San Francisco welfare-fraud investigator alleged that Abigail Badillo was hired as a San Francisco Human Services Agency eligibility worker — and approved Jose Badillo’s application for welfare benefits without disclosing their relationship.
While Jose Badillo reported he made $1,000 a month with no assets, property or vehicles, the affidavit reveals that their businesses had grossed in excess of $2 million every year since 2018. This enabled them to “purchase two commercial and two residential properties, several vehicles and vessels (boats). The most recent purchase, 4/24/23, was a 2023 Lamborghini valued at $288,786.”
All told, Fuentes received just over $78,000 in benefits for herself and her children, and Badillo drew nearly $84,000 for himself and his parents.
“Auto Towing intentionally misled and scammed people out of hundreds of dollars by illegally towing cars and making them hard to retrieve,” Chiu said in a statement.
“Now we also know that they took advantage of the public, and defrauded our safety-net programs. Fuentes and Badillo have demonstrated a clear pattern of predatory behavior designed to enrich themselves at the expense of the most vulnerable among us. Our City has no interest in contracting with exploitative businesses engaged in illegal conduct.”
Following Mission Local’s August articles, a number of aggrieved readers reached out and told horror stories of their own regarding Auto Towing or its related companies. Through comments and emails, they expressed similar grievances as those in Chiu’s filing; one person said that they paid up to $700 to retrieve their car after an illegal tow.
Andy Soohoo, one of the victims affected by the allegedly illegal towing, said that the company “refused to release the car even [though] we paid, because he said we were rude to him.”
Other allegations from victims accuse the company and its employees of “holding personal belongings for ransom,” as well as refusing to release illegally towed cars for days on end.
A message left for Fuentes and Badillo taken by an Auto Towing employee was not immediately returned.