NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Lee County Sheriff's Office says three suspects are accused of stealing cars, boats and golf carts from Hurricane Ian victims. They bonded out of jail and tell Fox 4 what they're suspected of doing is not true.
The case started in November where the suspects allegedly started taking vehicles, according to a police report. The Lee County Sheriff's Office began investigating in January when the first incident was reported.
"This was fraud at every level," said Sheriff Carmine Marceno. "One of their scams is they would tow storm-damaged cars and lie to the owners that the insurance company sent them."
The owner of the Philadelphia-based towing company claims this isn't true.
"I haven't done anything wrong," said Guerrier Marcder, the owner of Blessing Towing. "That didn’t happen, there are no stolen cars. We didn’t steal any cars. We are not here to steal cars."
In the police report obtained by Fox 4, the supposed scam involving insurance companies happened at least twice since November 2022. Other cars taken were simply just broken down, and that's how Marceno says detectives traced it back to Blessing Towing, which operates out of a lot in North Fort Myers.
"A large break in the case came when the victim reported their car breaking down and moved off the roadway vanished," Marceno explained.
They would then charge the owners double to get their vehicles back, the report said. The company charged a $175 tow fee on top of $75 per day. However, a Lee County ordinance caps the daily fee at $35.
Marceno says they recovered nine stolen cars, a trailer, three golf carts and two boats — all at the North Fort Myers lot, owned by Zulma Robles, a suspect in the case.
"Yes, I towed them," Marcder said. "Every car we have we have paperwork for it."
When Fox 4 asked for paperwork or a business license, he claimed the Sheriff's Office took it all.
According to state records, Blessing Towing is registered for a state license that started in December 2022. The Lee County Tax Collector's Office says they are licensed to operate a business in Lee County. The police report states the company violated other towing regulations, including failing to notify law enforcement when towing a vehicle and other operational issues.
"Just charges that are not true," Robles said. "We’ve been harassed since we started, since day 1."
They face 23 charges total including grand theft auto, running a chop shop because they had at least seven stolen vehicles among other charges.
"You get that select few who don't want to help, want to prey on people," Marceno said.
Both Robles and Marcder say they are going to fight the charges.