9 Tales From Texas' Infamous Towing Watchdog — And Overpass Rock Thrower

Pat Johnson has been a thorn in the towing industry’s side since 2008, when he began posting on his blog “Texas Parking Facility Fraud.” A former tow truck driver, Johnson has written more than 290 articles about the towing industry and its predatory practices. He quickly established himself as the watchdog of the towing industry, Texans began contacting him for help, and he became an expert witness on the behalf of towing "victims." 

But in recent years, he’s not writing as many towing articles, fewer than a dozen since he found himself embroiled in his own legal battles. In 2013, a Travis County Grand Jury indicted him on three counts of sexually abusing a child and last week he was charged with throwing rocks over a bridge at oncoming traffic on I-35.

Realizing that these legal cases might turn people away from his website, the Observer searched through Johnson’s archives and found the most interesting stories he spun about the towing industry, and beyond.

1)  Meet the "Spotters"

Employed by the towing company, the spotter often sits or stands unassuming near the parking facility to find violators. He’s sometimes dressed as a biker and other times as a college student. He waits until the violator leaves the car, then quickly calls the tow truck operator who is often around the corner. It takes only a matter of moments for them to hook up the violator’s car and drive away with it. “This is the purest form of violating the Texas Towing Law." He claims the tow trucks are engaging in organized criminal activity’ since more the three people are involved:  the spotter, the wrecker driver, the parking facility owner and the towing company representative.

2) Child Rapist Licensed

On September 21, 2010, Johnson posted about the Texas Department Licensing and Regulation granting an occupational license to a child rapist. “The public has to understand the serious threat posed to them when calling a business regulated by this agency,” he wrote. “The person arriving at your doorstep, or arriving to your location, could be a registered sex offender and/or a convicted felon.” He ought to know, considering his own indictment.   

In another post, he paints the industry with a wide brush. “So this just goes to show you, think twice before calling a tow truck to tow your vehicle broken down on the highway somewhere with [your] daughter or wife waiting without you,” he writes. “The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation has issued thousands of tow truck operators and tow company licenses to convicted felons and registered sex offenders.”

3) The Watchdog Testifies 
Johnson takes his issues to his nemesis during public comments at the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations Commission Meeting in 2012.  His manic passion is on display. 

4) Holiday Shopping Battleground

In a post titled “Criminals Target Holiday Shoppers in Parking Lots,” Johnson provides readers with a glimpse into his paranoid mindset.  He sees malls as a feeding ground for crooks and thieves, so much so that holiday shoppers should reconnoiter parking lots before parking. 

“If you are attacked, do not resist,” he writes. “If you are forced into a physical confrontation to protect yourself and others, scream to call attention to yourself. Use keys or thumbs to gouge the attacker’s eyes, use the heel of your hand to jam the attacker’s nose, or Adam’s Apple, knee the groin area or stomp down on top of the attacker’s foot. Then quickly run to escape.”

It’s unclear how this relates to tow truck operators or predatory towing, but it speaks volumes about the mindset of this self-appointed watchdog. “Criminals are hungry,” he concludes. “They will strike when they believe your guard is down.”

5) How to Spot a Pirate Tow Truck 

Johnson urged the public to report unlicensed tow trucks in July 2013 because they were causing undue financial harm by charging outrageous fees and stealing credit card numbers during the payment process. They’re pretty easy to spot, he claims, since they fail to display a license plate that says "Tow Truck" like licensed operators. “Should you observe a truck with this type of towing device (wheel-lift) operating on the roadway attached to a vehicle, call 911 to report an unlicensed tow truck,” he writes. “Get as much information of the truck, including make, color and the license plate number.”

6) Unproven Claims of Corruption Against Judges
In Johnson's world, the towing conspiracy extends into the judiciary and any ruling against the towed becomes evidence of this plot.  For example, he wrote a post targeting Dallas County JP3 Al Cercone, urging his readers to avoid Cercone’s court after he “showed his true color” when he declined to hold Longhorn Wrecker responsible monetarily in a tow hearing judgement. “This is corruption all way through,” he wrote in September 2013. “This Judge has turned his court into a money making machine for towing companies. [He] accepts bribes disguised as campaign donation from criminal enterprises disguised as towing companies.”

7) Border Patrol Agent vs. Tow Truck Driver

An armed border patrol agent caught a wrecker driver who was attempting to enter the agent’s government-issued unmarked truck at the agent’s apartment complex, Johnson posted on his blog. The wrecker driver’s passenger began “talking shit, threatening to kick [the agent’s] ass” until the border patrol agent reveals he’s an agent, and “all three of them start hollering.” As the wrecker driver lifts up the agent’s truck, the agent drew his firearm and ordered him to drop the vehicle. At this critical moment, the police arrive.  

“According to Agent Morales (first name not given) McAllen PD knew the wrecker driver to have outstanding felony warrants for his arrest and placed him [in] custody,” Johnson writes. “It was later learned that the wrecker driver had been stealing vehicles for quite sometime and was on parole.”

8) Violent Resistance to the ISIS-like Towing Industry 

Johnson wrote about the best way to deal with a predatory tow truck driver in late May. “The only solution to put a stop to a predatory tow truck driver is through the use of force, rather it be deadly force or a violent beating,” he said. He recommended setting your alarm clock for 4 a.m. to catch the predators roaming apartment complexes’ parking lots as they search for their next prey. “Every large city in Texas is under assault by predatory tow companies to inflict harm in the same manner as ISIS,” he wrote in May 21 post.
9) Tow Truck Driver Beaten by Long Haul Truckers

On May 16, 2014, Johnson spun a yarn from the front lines of the trucking wars. A long-haul trucker caught a tow truck operator inside her 2013 Kenworth, attempting to put the truck in neutral. A fight ensued and the police were called. “Before they arrived, this rig owner and several other truckers gave him a good ass whipping,” he claimed. “Turns out the guy driving the tow truck didn’t even have a driver’s license, much less a TDLR tow truck operator’s license.”   
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.