DC Tickets And Tows Stolen Car, Releases It To Thief, Then Sends Collection Agency After Owner

Steve Steinberg refused to pay a parking ticket issued after his car had been stolen, so the Washington, DC Department of Motor Vehicles sent a collections agency after him. Steinberg’s car was stolen in September of 2006. After he reported the theft, Steinberg says, the DC police and DMV ticketed his car, towed it, then released it to the thief.

Despite having several opportunities to check the car’s license plates, the only thing Steinberg got from the police was a $200 ticket for the parking violation the thief had committed. Steinberg sent letters to the police and DMV and informed them that his car had been stolen and he would not pay the ticket, so the DMV reported him to a collections agency.

Ticketed While Stolen: Theft Victim Vows He’ll Never Pay [WUSA9] (Thanks to Dyniece!)
(Photo: Superchou)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Umisaurus says:

    … and he shouldn’t pay. Ever.

    How irresponsible of the police department to release it to the thief. I wonder what the thief used as identification to claim the car… Anyone know how that process works?

  2. dragonfire81 says:

    Wow, that’s a pretty incompetent Police Department right there.

    When did Comcast start running Police precincts anyway?

  3. flidget says:

    The only thing I don’t believe is that the car was released to the thief – the article says the detective who told him that claims to have no memory of the conversation, so I assume there was a misunderstanding there – either the detective said something he didn’t mean, or Steinberg misinterpreted what was said.

    After all, if you stole a car and parked it, then returned to find it gone, would you bother trying to find it, passing yourself off as the owner, and paying to get it back?

  4. AstroPig7 says:

    Strangely, the DMV is very efficient when it comes to screwing things up.

  5. flidget says:

    On towed cars, from DC’s DMV:

    “Present your payment receipt, vehicle registration, and valid driver’s license at the DPW Blue Plains Vehicle Impoundment Lot (5001 Shepard Parkway, SW). If you are not the registered owner, you must have a notarized statement from the owner authorizing you to pick up the vehicle.”

    The towed vehicle fee is $100.


  6. Alex Chasick says:

    @flidget: Sounds about right, although I bet they also have a policy to run a vehicle’s tags when they give a ticket. Possibly (even probably) a misunderstanding, but I wouldn’t put anything past DC’s auto police after my experiences with them.

    Also, nice commenter pic.

  7. chartrule says:

    sounds like Washington DC owes mister Steinberg a new car

  8. JollyJumjuck says:

    Just another reason to hate Parking Enforcement (a.k.a. The Parking Gestapo). They are to law enforcement what parasites are to the animal kingdom.

  9. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    @flidget: Its not unheard of – my neighbor had his car towed about 10 years ago, his angry ex-wife who was a tow truck dispatcher found out about it before he did. Before he could do anything, she was able to get the car out of the impound lot even though it wasn’t in her name and she didn’t have the registration papers, all she told them was the license plate #, and paid the impound fee, and they happily handed it over to her. Since she had a set of keys to the vehicle I guess they didn’t question the legitimacy of her claim. Stupid of him not to get the keys from her when they divorced, but that’s hardly a reason to expect that his car could be claimed from an impound lot by anyone other than himself.

  10. My mom’s car was stolen in Berkeley, and left in some two hour parking zone. It took 3 parking tickets before they figured out the car had been reported stolen. My mom got her car back that day, and wasn’t responsible for the tickets.

  11. yevarechecha says:

    I’m from suburban DC and this is pretty much par for the course with that police department. If they’d been put in charge of the Beltway sniper investigation, people would still be getting shot 6 years later.

    I would say they take incompetence to an entirely new level, but I think the DC public schools are still holding onto that award.

  12. PHX602 says:

    Come on, this is the District of Columbia, world reknown for administrative judges filing $54MM lawsuits over pants, and crackhead mayors running the show.

  13. LionelEHutz says:

    The D.C. Government is largely staffed by a lot of people who couldn’t get a job anywhere else. They are simply that stupid.

  14. I call bullshit. Not because I dont believe they would screw up this much, but because no thief would pay to claim his car from impound.

  15. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Steve Trachsel, Ace:

    An identity thief might.

  16. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    @Steve Trachsel, Ace: Depends on what might have been IN the car when it was impounded, that the thief thought worthwhile to try to get back. TechnoDestructo has a good point – if it were identity theft materials (skimmers, credit cards etc) it might have been worth it for the thief.

  17. TechnoDestructo says:


    Actually, I was just thinking about them going there and picking up the car using someone else’s identity.

  18. @Steve Trachsel, Ace: The impound fees are cheaper than buying a car…

  19. Buran says:

    @Neecy: Did he report it stolen and have her prosecuted?

  20. flidget says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: True, but stealing another one is cheaper and easier than paying the impound fees, provided you’re better at stealing cars than you are at parking them legally.

    I don’t doubt that a failure of the system would allow the thief to claim the car – but why would he risk it?

  21. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    @Buran: Yep…it was fun – she claimed that he had promised to give her the car before the divorce so she was “justified” in stealing it. Unfortunately she just got a slap on the wrist and a fine, typical.

  22. Shevek says:

    The only real questionable part about is whether or not the car was towed and then picked up by someone who was not the owner–presumably the thief. Even the victim is wrong about this detail, it still remains that DC either didn’t bother to check or didn’t notice when they issued the ticket that the car was reported stolen. And even if THAT isn’t the case (if their policy isn’t actually to check the plates), they still claim that he didn’t contact them about his ticket when he has copies of his faxes that he sent to them a year before they sent his ticket to collections. So, yeah, I choose to slice this, DC loses and this is quite a screw-up.

  23. KD17 says:

    I feel for the guys stress he now has to deal with, but thats pretty funny the thief had the balls to go get the car back. I would think there was something in the car the thief wanted back, or maybe he just really liked the car.

  24. MikeB says:

    @Neecy: Who says it was the thief that went to the impound lot? The thief could have “sold” and the new “owner” could have gotten it out of impound.

  25. mike says:

    This is just a continuation of DC’s stupidity.

    Case in point: DC wanted a baseball team. So they buy a baseball team…without a stadium. Then they wanted a stadium. So they built a stadium…in a very high crime area. DC then didn’t realize that people won’t know how to get there because there is a Metro stop named “Stadium Armory” which has nothing to do with a stadium. Then DC realized that they didn’t have enough parking. So they ask people around the area to host parking.


  26. forgottenpassword says:

    SHouldnt this be a simple case? IF he reported it stolen BEFORE he got the tickets…. then there is no question who is at fault here (the thief & the parking enforcement jackass who issued the ticket without checking to see if the vehicle was stolen). Take the DMV/parking enforcement to court over the mixup. I dont think a judge would uphold any tickets or tow-lot fees because the owner is not responsible for them. Then there is the other issue of damage to his credit for the DMV turning loose a collection agency on him when he was not responsible for the ticket.

  27. Barbarisater says:

    Similar situation happened to me. Car stolen and several parking tickets and impound later they figure out it was stolen. Gave me the car back and then I get a notice in the mail telling me to pay the tickets. All I had to do was send a copy of the police report and didn’t hear from them any more.

    Typical right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

  28. psyop63b says:

    @Barbarisater: You beat me to the right hand / left hand analogy. Well done!

  29. Falconfire says:

    @Alex Chasick: When my car dissappeared, I reported it stolen. Over a month went by and the police department couldnt find it, so I went through the motions of claiming it. Just before they literally write the check, the police call me about my IMPOUNDED car…

    Turns out not only was it NOT stolen, it had been towed and impounded by the VERY same police I filed a stolen car report with 3 hours later with the impound lot being 3 blocks from my house. And they where going to try to extort the 1000 dollars impound fee till I brought the Passaic County prosecutor in.

    So they likely dont run tags even though they are supposed to.

  30. BoC says:

    “That’s some nice Police work there, Lou.”


  31. ViperBorg says:

    @BoC: Ha! Classic!

  32. quail says:

    @flidget: You would think that policy & procedures would always be carried out. But here’s the thing, a slick character can always play on another person’s good will to get what he wants. But I get the feeling it’s more a question of the impound lot personnel being mired down for weeks if they required every owner to come in with registration and title. Could even 60% of car owners find theirs?

  33. fostina1 says:

    think whoever returned it to the theif should be treated as an accomplice

  34. Leah says:

    @quail: people better be able to find those things. You’re required to have them in order to re-register your car.

    Rather, tho, it seems more important that impound lots should run plates and figure out whether or not a car is stolen.

    Funny story about DC from the other side: my car got towed from Constitution Ave (aka the Mall) in a dumb tourist move when I forgot to read the parking sign and see that lanes switched to no parking in rush hour. All I got was $100 ticket, and they towed my car onto the mall.

    A month later, the ticket still wasn’t in the system. Last time I checked to try and pay my ticket online, the computer politely informed me that my ticket had been voided because the issuing officer was tardy in turning it in. If it’s that simple to void a ticket on a technicality, what is the problem here?

  35. Pro-Pain says:

    The dumbing down of Amerika at work…Nice.

  36. ColdNorth says:

    There are something like nine or ten different police jurisdictions active in the District of Columbia. The White House has its own police force, the Capitol retains one of its own, the Supreme Court has one, the GSA has one, the National Parks system has one, plus there is the FBI, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Oh yes, and the Federal Marshals are active in DC, too.

    So, basically, the DC cops deal with any case that doesn’t affect the President, any legislators, any federal judges, any military installations or personnel, any national monuments or government properties. Oh yeah, and they don’t deal with any escaped or transferring prisoners. Oh, and they would be trumped on any Federal crimes (i.e., anything that crosses District lines at any point in the commission of the crime).

    Basically, I think this leaves traffic control (except when dealing with any Gov’t VIPs or foreign dignitaries) and theft committed on private properties. Oh, and any murders happening in the SE corner, I suppose. (They’ve certainly cultivated a sterling reputation on that one.)

    So… what other result might you expect but for this assembly to be nothing more than a group of keystone cops?

  37. nightmage61 says:

    Can someone explained just how having cops like these, instead of personal sidearms, keeps us safe?

    I mean, my sidearm always follows instructions and is way smarter then most cops.

  38. vdragonmpc says:

    I have to side with the guy. My wife’s car was towed in Richmond VA (same mentality) even though it was LEGALLY parked in front of her advisor’s office. It was great! They thought it was stolen and the Campus Police were looking for it and lo and behold its in an impound lot clear across the city.

    I had to drive a nice distance to take her to the car. She absolutely HAD to get in the car as her meds were in the car and she could not go without them. It kept getting better and better. You see it was her mother’s car and was registered in her mom’s name. (years ago) When she was in college there was no need for her to have her own car and since school was out for the summer she had borrowed her mom’s car. What a fun thing.

    I can say for a fact there is a reason they are behind the glass. After 45 minutes in summer heat standing outside the
    trailor I was ready to bash the guy with a blunt instrument. He kept repeating over and over that we needed a bill of sale or a registration for her mom’s car. I finally lost it and called the cops. It took 2 Richmond cops to get them to release the car. Even better was the officers asking how it was towed from an authorized spot. The lot guys kept repeating that they were called for a violation but there was no ticket anywhere or any documentation. They wanted 75$ period and would not let her
    get her meds out of the car.

    In the end we paid 0$ and had a police escort to her car and out of the lot. I HATE the parking gestapo with a passion. They cruise the areas and do nothing to help the situation in Richmond. I wouldnt go there unless forced.

  39. cyberkoko says:

    As a resident of the DC area, you must remember that this is the city that had millions of dollars stolen by corrupt tax officials. It is not unheard of Ben Franklin being accepted as ID by city officials.

  40. tedyc03 says:

    It’s not a surprise that he got the car back. Probably didn’t even claim it. In DC, when the impound lots get full, they park the cars on the street and sometimes boot them, sometimes not. Having done a ridealong with DC police, I know that to check the plates on any car they don’t have a nice, centralized computer system. Instead, they rely on calling in the plates to dispatch and having dispatch return the data. If parking enforcement bothered with that they’d spend all day checking plates (maybe not a bad thing). This was a comedy of errors…that unfortunately ended up on Consumerist.

  41. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    I had my car stolen in New York City. I reported it to the police, filed the report, and even got the money from the insurance. Four months later I get a call from a collections agency that I owed almost $2000 in parking tickets. All were issued after the car was stolen. I told them I’d never received the tickets so they sent me copies. All were ticketed at the same address. I then took a taxi to this address in Bed-Stuy (long way from me) where my car had been parked on a street for almost 4 months. The steering wheel was gone; the radio was gone; the car was completely stripped; but sure enough there were 3 more parking tickets on the car. I’ve tried to repress the rest of the day out of my mind but I had to call the cops in Bed-Stuy, wait 3 hours for them to quit eating donuts, stand outside in 10 degree weather, and then get them to authorize that “without a steering wheel this car can’t move.” I didn’t have to pay the tickets but I learned that if you want to commit a crime in NYC and not get pursued, steal a car. The cops do not care one bit about car theft.

  42. SuperJdynamite says:

    @Leah: “people better be able to find those things. You’re required to have them in order to re-register your car.”

    I keep my registration in my car. The car that would theoretically be impounded.

  43. backbroken says:

    Did I ever tell you about the time I was a victim of a hit and run in DC? I called the cops and related my story about how the woman in front of me at the stop light inexplicably reversed into me, smashing the front end of my car, then took off.

    The cops (about 20 of them showed up) accused me of being drunk, (hadn’t had a drink in a week) and damaging the car myself then making up the story for insurance purposes. I think they were pretty close to throwing me in jail even though I was completely polite and respectful, if a little stunned and exasperated. Best part of the story is that the cop who played “good cop” was named Moe Howard. Moe told me he’d be willing to let me go home and drop the whole thing. (!!!!)

    Now you know why I hate DC cops.

  44. whanghpo says:

    always run the tag number

  45. bovinekid says:

    This makes me feel better about never paying that DC parking ticket from 7 years ago.

  46. Banned in DC says:

    @sohmc: DC then didn’t realize that people won’t know how to get there because there is a Metro stop named “Stadium Armory” which has nothing to do with a stadium.

    I know, DC officials are dumb, right? How could they name a station like that and confuse tourists? Maybe it’s called “Stadium/Armory” station because it’s a block away from both a 55,000 seat stadium (RFK) and the DC Armory, which sits between the station and the stadium.

    Seriously, if you can’t find your way to Nationals Park, you need more help than the DC govt can provide.

  47. IrisMR says:

    I smell that the police should get a lawsuit.

  48. That-Dude says:

    @sohmc: Not impressed by your logic here . . . I think it is truly flawed. Are you telling me they should have financed a stadium without a team? The reason for the Stadium in Southeast is to promote revitalization of the area, see Baltimore for a prime example of how this works.

  49. halftank says:

    Unfortunately this is typical DC – where folks see fit to spend $600 million on a new stadium while teachers stock up on TP @Costco b/c the public school bathrooms don’t have toilet paper.

    And don’t forget the two ladies in the DC Tax office who wrote $50 million in checks to themselves from 2000-07 before they finally got caught… not by a co-worker but a bank teller.

    Marion Berry hired most of the people – enough said.

  50. SkokieGuy says:

    My Chicago story: I had an older jeep that stopped working. I had it legally parked. Because it had been in the same spot for 7 days, the police ticketed it and wrote info on the windsheild indicating it would be towed if not moved in 24 hours.

    I moved the vehicle (pushed it) onto a sidestreet into a different parking spot, half a block away. I removed the ticket, but did not clean the writing on the windsheild. Although legally parked in a new spot with no violation, the vehicle was towed and impounded.

    Although I could contest everything with a court date, I would have to pay for the tow and impound fees, and hope that I would get my money back during the court hearing, which would be months away.

    The cost of all this exceeded the value of the vehicle, so I did not pay to get it out of impound.

    So with no trial or judgement issued, the city crushed my car.

  51. polyeaster says:

    Yeah ummm…I live in Baltimore, so I can only imagine DC is the same- pretty much all impound lots are shady, particularly in city areas. No one is concerned with cars being stolen- anyone with enough $$ can get a car from impound…and before anyone gets cars back, the tow driver or lot employees strip everything of value or not from/off a car. Pretty much the only hope is to get the car at impound within 6 hours of when it was towed, and it MIGHT be intact…cops don’t care.

  52. WraithSama says:

    A remarkably similar story involves my mother and the cops of Indianapolis, Indiana. A woman in a large, expensive SUV at a stop light put it in reverse and backed into my mother’s car, damaging both vehicles, then drove off. My mother, angry at this woman’s audacity, made the bad decision to go after her. She pulled beside the woman in the SUV and tried yell to the woman to pull over, as they both had their windows down; the woman ignored her without even looking. My mother noted that the woman was wearing very nice clothes and wore an enormous diamond ring. After chasing the woman a few blocks, she managed to flag down a cop who stopped both of them. Here’s where things go downhill quickly…

    Additional cops showed up and they questioned the woman in the SUV first. After waiting almost half an hour, they asked my mother for her story. Immediately upon finishing, the cop informs her that their stories don’t match up. They decide they’re going to find it was a both-at-fault accident. A few days later, my mother receives 2 envelopes in the mail. One’s from the police, saying they’ve entered the accident as entirely my mom’s fault. The other’s from the SUV woman’s insurance company saying my mother is responsible for repairs to the SUV and they’ll place a lien on her new car if she doesn’t pay.

    My mother tried getting an attorney, but they all told her that with the police on the SUV woman’s side, there’s nothing she can do. Her insurance ended up paying for the damage to the SUV, but her premiums went up as a result. Even worse, she contacted a friend of hers who works in the police department, and he couldn’t get any information about the accident, saying it was very suspicious. Apparently, the SUV woman was well-connected and pulled some strings to get the whole thing turned in her favor.

  53. uberbucket says:

    How are you supposed to show your vehicle registration when it’s legally required to be in your car? Or do they do that differently in DC as well?

  54. backbroken says:

    @WraithSama: That really sucks. I made a conscious decision to not chase the person in front of me because, well, it was DC and all.

  55. Veeber says:

    @JollyJumjuck: Living in a neighborhood where our only options are street parking, having unauthorized vehicles makes it really difficult to get home. I’ve been pretty happy with Parking Enforcement when they come by and pull the jerks who take up our spaces so they don’t have to pay to park at the stadium.

  56. Buran says:

    @Falconfire: Suck. Why was it towed?

  57. Mary says:

    I love how much contempt people have for parking police. It’s great, I get to hear all kinds of people saying they don’t deserve their tickets because they were running late, or everybody does it, etc.

    That doesn’t make the police right in this case, this is a case of ridiculousness. But at the same time, the attitude people have towards anybody who might write a parking ticket is just ridiculous. Maybe people should comment on this specific incident, or a specific incident that happened to them instead of calling anybody involved in parking enforcement “parasites.”

    Nicest people I know right now are in parking enforcement.

  58. Balisong says:

    @WraithSama: That’s terrible! I always try to quickly memorize the license plate of cars that hit me. And yes it’s happened a lot…I don’t live in DC, but fairly close to it. Had my car side-swiped three times, and then totaled.

  59. Buran says:

    @Leah: You’re supposed to keep the registration IN the car (at least in MO) but I have the title at home in a fireproof lock box.

  60. Darkwish says:

    @SuperJdynamite: In Utah, the registration papers state to keep them in the car at all times, so yeah, if this happens, you’re screwed. And since most people don’t have the titles to their cars, the bank does, this would be another problem.

  61. jeff303 says:

    @SkokieGuy: Oh man, I thought I got screwed when my car got towed the first day I moved to Chicago due to the archaic winter parking rule on Milwaukee Ave. But that is much worse. In any case I think we can agree that the parking industry in Chicago is a racket.

  62. henwy says:

    I’m sorry but this story simply isn’t believable. I’ve had my car towed in multiple states now, most recently just 2 weeks ago and the process is always the same. You need to present a driver’s license in the name of whoever the car is registered to or have a notorized statement. I once got towed in chicago years ago when I was driving a car under my dad’s name. I had to get a statement from him faxed even to have access the car so I could get the registration and insurance out. There is simply no believable way that a thief would go through the effort of faking all of this, insurance, registration, driver’s license to get the car out of a tow yard.

  63. passwordhuh says:

    This is just a continuation of DC’s stupidity.

    Case in point: DC wanted a baseball team. So they buy a baseball team…without a stadium. Then they wanted a stadium. So they built a stadium…in a very high crime area. DC then didn’t realize that people won’t know how to get there because there is a Metro stop named “Stadium Armory” which has nothing to do with a stadium. Then DC realized that they didn’t have enough parking. So they ask people around the area to host parking.


    First of all, RFK (a stadium)is located at the Stadium Armory stop. Second, free parking and shuttle service is available to people who park at RFK to go to the Nationals games. Third, WTF are you talking about “asking people to host parking?” That makes no sense, and is not true.

  64. Sean Robertson says:

    This is what happens when you outsource law enforcement to private companies. Goddamned idiots.

  65. Sean Robertson says:

    This is what @SkokieGuy: so the city provides free disposal fees now? LOL

  66. district2005 says:

    okay okay okay. jesus christ with a tow truck. everyone. MPD, the metro police department, and the DMV, department of motor vehicles are TWO separate agencies. before you continue cop/police bashing, take a deep breath. if you must commence with ‘goddamn the man’ comments, commence with general DC government bashing. BUT, also, with understanding that things have dramatically improved in the past few years. also, if you go back the WUSA9 story, it mentions nothng about MPD ticketing. wha?

  67. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    A few years ago I co-signed a note for my nephews car. As a result I was on the title. He got it towed one night and got a friend to drop him off at my house. The next morning he had to be at work quite early so we loaned him a vehicle, and went to get his car out of the impound (private). My drivers license and a $150 was all that was required, the lot owner just looked up the information from the state.

    We don’t have the same vehicle registration in Texas. We have two stickers on the windshield, one is for the safety inspection, the other is registration. The registration comes with a receipt, but it is only required to be kept with commercial vehicles.

    When I have had cars financed I don’t remember ever getting even a copy of the title (with a lean indicated). I of course got a title when the loan was paid off.

  68. sp00nix says:

    Something like this happened to a friend of mine. she used to live in philly and they “relocated” her car without telling her for construction. she filed it as stolen, then she gets a call from her mom about a bunch of over due parking tickets a couple months later. We did find the car about a week after i vanished. They had moved it a few blocks over and around the corner. Spotted it looking for a parking space haha.

  69. MonsieurBon says:

    Um, my roommate’s car was stolen and parked blocking a driveway. It was towed, and she had to pay $350 to get it back, even though she reported it stolen when it was first missing. I don’t know why this kind of stuff happens.

  70. BrockBrockman says:

    Remember that time the parking police towed the car with the dead body in it? Not in D.C., but hey, meter maids is meter maids.

    Parking tickets, just like red light cameras, have less to do with public order and safety, and more to do with revenue-making.

  71. vastrightwing says:

    They’re not taking this very seriously.

  72. @backbroken: Was that you?? Sorry!

    If it makes you feel any better, I feel the same way about DC Police…

  73. bnorton says:

    Are we sure Steve just didn’t report the car stolen so he can get free parking? It’s almost as dumb as paying for $150 in groceries and stealing $22 in soda.