2016-04-01 / Front Page

City clerk suspends tower’s license

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


In a photo from his company’s Facebook page, Payam Yazdanpanah poses with a vehicle from his business, Yaz Towing, based on Katana Drive in South Portland. Based on complaints about the business, the city clerk suspended Yaz’s license to operate in South Portland until June 30, and booted it from a list of tow companies called by the police department until Dec. 6. (Courtesy photo) In a photo from his company’s Facebook page, Payam Yazdanpanah poses with a vehicle from his business, Yaz Towing, based on Katana Drive in South Portland. Based on complaints about the business, the city clerk suspended Yaz’s license to operate in South Portland until June 30, and booted it from a list of tow companies called by the police department until Dec. 6. (Courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — It can be hard to do business in South Portland, especially when the city revokes an operating license.

At its most recent meeting, the City Council upheld a decision by City Clerk Emily Carrington to revoke the operating license for Katana Drive business Yaz Towing until June 30. Yaz also has been booted from a list of tow companies called to accidents, breakdowns and arrests by South Portland police when vehicles need to be removed from the scene. That suspension lasts through the balance of the licensing year, to Dec. 6.

According to Portland attorney Peter Evans, who spoke on behalf of Yaz owner Payam Yazdanpanah at the March 22 hearing, 45 percent of Yaz’s business comes from private calls in South Portland, while another 15 percent is generated by calls from the South Portland Police Department.

“That’s an awful lot of business to be lost over that course of time, six months and a year,” Evans said. “That seems an excessive penalty.”

However, city councilors appeared unmoved, given that Yazdanpanah was cited by local police for theft by extortion and criminal threatening following a Dec. 13 incident at the IHOP restaurant in Auburn, when he reportedly made a scene trying to collect a tow fee.

Two days earlier, on Dec. 11, Yazdanpanah was called to Auburn by Allstate, the insurance company representing South Portland resident Sierra-lynn Frost, who waits tables at IHOP.

The fee for the 31-mile tow was $139. But Yazdanpanah also wanted an extra $200. Allstate refused to cover the extra fee and Yazdanpanah refused to tow the vehicle until Frost signed a note promising to pay it herself.

At the March 22 hearing, Mayor Tom Blake said the extra $200 was not an issue. The schedule of fees allowed by the city for towing services includes a maximum $200 add-on when winching is required. Frost’s vehicle, a 2004 Subaru Impreza, reportedly experienced an issue with a stuck accelerator and had to be pulled out of a ditch beside the IHOP parking lot.

However, what was concerning, Blake said, were police reports filed by Frost, her mother Sharity Medrano, and her boyfriend, Matthew Towle, claiming that on Dec. 13 Yazdanpanah spent about 45 minutes at the IHOP trying to get the $200 from Frost.

In her police statement, Frost claimed Yazdanpanah had first called Medrano after several unsuccessful attempts to collect the $200 “extra labor” fee. “He had called her a bitch on the phone and threatened to kill her,” Frost wrote. At the restaurant,Frost said she hid in the kitchen asYazdanpanah “was walking though the restaurant looking for me.” “Yaz said he needed $200 cash only and he needed it now,” Frost said, in her hand-written statement.

Statements by Frost, Medrano and Towle all detail a subsequent confrontation in the IHOP parking lot, in which Yazdanpanah finally got his $200, giving a host of vulgarities in exchange. Evans did not deny the incident took place, noting only that “ugly words” were hurled from both sides, and that Yazdanpanah was “justifiably angry” over the trouble it took to get his bill paid.

“There’s no question this was improper behavior,” Blake said. “This was indeed inappropriate conduct and we can’t tolerate this level of intimidation.”

Councilor Linda Cohen agreed, saying that the issuance of a tow license by the city represents a “not a right, but a privilege” to do business.

“We don’t want people out there chasing down people for money,” She said. “The suspension is appropriate.”

Councilor Claude Morgan added that by holding an operating license issued by South Portland, Yazdanpanah becomes, in effect, a representative of the city. As such, he said, “Standards have to be high.” But more troubling, Morgan said, was the perceived “lack of contrition” on Yazdanpanah’s part in the wake of the incident and the police charges, which have since been conditionally suspended.

Evans’ argument to have the license suspension reduced to 30 days and removal from the SPPD tow list cut back to 90 days, was that Carrington failed to fully advise Yazdanpanah of his rights relative to a Jan. 6 hearing.

On Dec. 15, Police Chief Ed Googins wrote Carrington, asking her to convene a suspension hearing, based on the summons issued by his department.

“The conduct that had lead [sic] to these charges have raised serious concerns about Mr. Yazdanpanah and the risk he poises [sic] to the public safety while performing services under the provisions of the wrecker license,” Googins wrote.

Yazdanpanah represented himself at the Jan. 6 hearing, which lasted five hours. Evans claimed the notice of the hearing issued by Carrington did not advise him of all of the statutes under which she would sit in judgment. And, while Yazdanpanah was advised he could bring witnesses, Evans said no indication was given that he could compel anyone to appear, including the IHOP managers.

Because of that, Evans said, the hearing was “stacked” against Yazdanpanah, with witnesses called by Googins in support of his call to suspend the Yaz Towing license.

“In this situation that was a large problem for Yaz Towing because the bulk of the witnesses that were available were not friendly terribly to him,” Evans said. “However, they could have shed light on the situation in a way that merely the police chief’s witnesses did not.”

However, the city’s attorney at the appeal hearing, James Katsiaficas, of the South Portland firm Perkins Thompson, said no such subpoena power exists.

“There’s noting in the ordinance that gives anyone subpoena power for a municipal clerk’s appeal like this,” he said. “There’s nothing under the licensing provision that authorizes the clerk to issue subpoenas or to force potentially adverse witnesses or anybody to attend the hearing on ether side.”

The council voted unanimously to uphold Carrington’s ruling, and the penalties imposed.

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