UPTOWN — A Chicago towing company once branded the “Lincoln Park Pirates” in a 1972 ballad by local folk singer Steve Goodman has gotten hooked itself.
Chicago police recently cited Lincoln Towing for allegedly towing vehicles from lots that were not properly marked with warning signs after the company nabbed the car of a state child welfare worker.
An extra kick: A Lincoln Towing official was cited for talking on his cellphone while driving when he allegedly was spotted pulling into the company's lot at 4882 N. Clark St. while police were there investigating complaints.
The company's recent trouble began after it allegedly towed the car of an on-duty Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employee who had parked in a lot across from the Rogers Park Police District station.
DCFS worker Patrick Armstrong was inside the police station at 6464 N. Clark St. on state business when his vehicle was towed from a lot on Schreiber Street, directly south of the station and visible from the station's front desk, according to a police report.
According to officers who drove Armstrong to the tow yard on Sept. 2, employees from Lincoln Towing claimed they were authorized to protect that parking lot but refused to provide officers with the contract.
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The officers waited for manager William Jessup to arrive after being stonewalled by the desk employee. When Jessup arrived, he was issued a separate moving violation when he drove into the lot talking on his cellphone instead of a hands-free device, according to the police report of the incident.
Jessup, in turn, accused the officers of taking an envelope filled with money to harass him about his towing business, but retracted the accusation when officers asked him to elaborate, according to police.
Lincoln Towing had posted signs in a section of the lot on Clark Street, but not on the Schreiber Avenue side, where Armstrong was towed from, police said.
Lincoln was cited for the signage shortfall and towing without authorization, police said.
Representatives from Lincoln Towing did not respond to numerous messages and emails seeking comment. Since the incident, Lincoln Towing has posted multiple large “no parking” signs on the side of the lot where Armstrong ran into trouble.
“I’m a state employee, and while I was at the the police station conducting state business my car was towed illegally,” Armstrong said. “And that’s really the gist of what I can say.”
Armstrong said he had filed a complaint with the Illinois Commerce Commission and plans to follow through on the legal process.
“I wish I could tell you how they acted when I went to get my car,” said Armstrong, who said he was instructed by his state supervisors not to say more. “All of it was really unnecessary.”
While officers were speaking with Jessup about the return of Armstrong’s vehicle, a second man arrived claiming the firm had towed a vehicle from a lot he owns but had not contracted Lincoln Towing to monitor.
The owner of the now-closed J&K Rogers Pantry at 1930 W. Chase Ave. claimed Lincoln had towed the vehicle of a woman he’d given permission to park in his empty lot. Officers issued separate citations for the vehicle taken from the former J&K parking lot, according to the police report.
Lincoln Towing’s reputation was established in the late 1960s and early '70s, when Goodman wrote his song about the company, a tune that achieved national airplay: “In Chicago where I live, there’s an outfit that’d tow almost anything off the street," Goodman sang. "But they deal mostly in automobiles, and we call ‘em the Lincoln Park Pirates.”
Goodman composed the lyrics at least partially in former Ald. Dick Simpson’s office, where the songwriter used documents from an investigation into Lincoln Towing being carried out by Simpson and his staff.
Simpson, who was the 44th Ward alderman from 1971 through 1979 and is currently a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, recalled how the towing firm became an issue in the 1971 aldermanic race.
“It had become an escalating problem,” Simpson said in an interview with DNAinfo Chicago. “They would, among other things, take cars that were legally parked and tow them away. And often, drivers would be pretty upset by that. They would show up and complain and be threatened by fairly violent employees.”
According to Simpson, part of his successful aldermanic campaign pivoted on his promise to regulate tow yards to ensure cars were being taken legally and people weren’t being extorted by the firms.
“Mike Royko wrote about it at the time,” said Simpson. “And [Goodman] knew about our office, knew about my campaign against Lincoln Towing. He asked to use our files, which were extensive, because we were involved in the battles with Lincoln Towing.”
Simpson said he believes Lincoln has cleaned up its act considerably since the 1970s. However, tow yards are still under pressure to collect vehicles because it’s their sole source of income, he said.
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