A final settlement aims to bring relief to the owners of vehicles and watercraft allegedly wrongfully towed from Seaside Heights by a Toms River company following Hurricane Sandy.
The state Division of Consumer Affairs announced Monday that the owners of the about 50 unclaimed vehicles and watercraft in APK Auto Repair and Towing's possession will be given 21 days to claim their items before they are sold by the state for scrap.
The proceeds from those sales will be used to reimburse the vehicle owners who had paid APK to retrieve their property prior to a November agreement, according to a Division of Consumer Affairs news release.
"We did not want these consumers, already victims of Hurricane Sandy, to be victimized again," Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said in a statement. "They did nothing wrong and Division of Consumer Affairs investigators worked diligently to resolve this matter and allow these storm survivors to move forward without this unnecessary burden."
In November, an initial agreement allowed for the return of more than 70 vehicles and watercraft to their registered owners at no charge. But some had already paid APK "significant sums" to reclaim their property before the agreement between APK and the state was reached, the release states.
The Division of Consumer Affairs said that is likely the unclaimed items were left by owners because they were damanged beyond repair and were covered by the owners' insurance.
APK Towing was accused of taking cars from private property in Seaside Heights, as well as price gouging. The company's Route 37 and Coolidge Avenue location was surrounded by crime scene tape and under police guard in November. The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office was among those investigating the claims, and days before the initial Nov. 20 settlement police crime scene tape wrapped an APK lot in Lacey.
Also under the settlement, APK was assessed $15,669 for the state’s investigative costs, a fee that is suspended and will be vacated after one year, but will become payable if APK fails to comply with the settlement terms, officials said.
"We heard from consumers who had to pay hundreds of dollars to get their towed cars out of storage," said Eric T. Kanefsky, acting director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs, in a statement. "We shared their outrage and we’re happy that we could help bring this matter towards a final resolution that gets these individuals their money back."
Consumers who feel they have been cheated or scammed, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, are asked to file a complain with the Division of Consumer Affairs through its website or by calling 800-242-5846 or 973-504-6200, the agency said.