AAA cuts ties with 'predatory' Detroit towing company, Breakthrough

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click to enlarge An office with a view. - Violet Ikonomova
Violet Ikonomova
An office with a view.

AAA has ended its relationship with Breakthrough Towing following a viral video that alleged the company was running a scam at a Detroit McDonald's that may have resulted in customers getting towed.

The auto club says it suspended Breakthrough's services as a towing provider on Sept. 7, the day the video was posted to YouTube, and, terminated the company on Sept. 14 following an investigation. Breakthrough had been a subcontractor for AAA since 2015.

"While the video is not referencing a AAA-related service request, the actions and behavior seen in this video are in no way tolerated and do not reflect the values of the AAA brand," says Susan Hiltz, a spokeswoman with AAA of Michigan.

In the video, a man who says he was made to pay $445 cash after being towed by Breakthrough returns to the McDonald’s lot to find the company allegedly using a “spotter” and targeting the vehicle of a woman who says she was a customer. The woman appears bewildered as the truck approaches her car, beeping in reverse. Is she being towed from the McDonald's customer lot, she asks, “for going to McDonalds?”
The AAA logo was painted on the hood of the tow truck, prompting viewers to ask in the Youtube comments what the auto club was doing about it. The company responded swiftly, commenting "AAA has high standards of service for our towing service providers. Actions such as those seen in this video are in no way tolerated. We are currently investigating this matter and will take appropriate and immediate action."

The reaction is a far cry from the response we received from McDonald's, which appeared to stand by Breakthrough and continues to contract with the company. In a phone call with Metro Times, McDonald's brand manager Phil Saken asked how we knew if anyone in the video was telling the truth. When we explained that several people had reached out to us to share similar experiences, Saken asked how we knew if those people were telling the truth. Eventually, he said the restaurant's management was "actively monitoring the situation" and had "not found evidence of anyone calling the towing company prematurely." The franchise is currently under the management of a Dominique Virgiles, who is running the location on an interim basis following the death of the longtime owner.

Since the release of the video, a class action lawsuit has been filed against the company, alleging it engages in "illegal, predatory, and rogue practices." A handful of additional people who have not joined the suit have shared horror stories with Metro Times about their dealings with the towing company.
Among other things, the company has allegedly:

• Towed a man who was inside the restaurant picking up an order for his delivery job with the company Door Dash when he was parked just long enough to go to the bathroom and grab the order. When he re-emerged from McDonald's with the order inside his red Door Dash bag and explained he had been a customer, the Breakthrough driver still took off.
• Threatened with violence a Hamtramck business owner who tried to stop them from towing his customers and taunted and harassed a woman who argued about the fees.
• Damaged at least two people's vehicles.

For the full details on Breakthrough's tactics and how the company may be breaking the law, check out this recent story.

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