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Two arrested in parking scam at Tampa Bay Rays' first game

ST. PETERSBURG — Police have arrested two women in connection with a parking scam during the Tampa Bay Rays opening game.

Five people left the April 6 game to find their cars had been towed by Apex Towing and Recovery. The fans paid $10 to park in a lot near the stadium.

The lot, next to apartments at 511 16th St. S, has two signs warning that the area is a tow-away zone. The signs were covered that night, and two women held signs along the street directing drivers to the lot, police said.

On Thursday morning, police arrested the women on felony charges of scheming to defraud.

Sylvia Washington, 46, and Joyce Roberts, 42, are neighbors in the adjacent apartment building, police said.

Police said they admitted holding signs and charging $10 a car. They collected $230 from 23 motorists and split the money, police said.

Washington told police she needed money for groceries. She was also charged with being in possession of a controlled substance.

Police said nothing from their investigation suggests that Apex Towing was involved in the scam.

Phillip DeCelles, the owner of Apex Towing, said he was happy to hear about the arrests. He wished the city had moved quicker in dealing with what he calls a common scam during busy Rays games.

"It's only taken about three years, which is about par for the course," he said.

DeCelles has his own criminal charges to deal with. Last week he was charged with scheming to defraud, a felony, in an unrelated case involving his towing company.

DeCelles also gave a warning to potential fans parking around Tropicana Field: "It's usually never a good idea to park on someone's lawn or bumper to bumper in a driveway."

City Council member Wengay Newton applauded the arrests, saying that DeCelles can refund the money he received from towing the cars that night now that he knows the motorists had been scammed.

Newton had helped some stranded fans that night and persuaded the City Council to adopt a motion on Thursday that will look at requiring all parking attendants to wear badges with permit numbers.

"I think it will deter a lot of this from happening in the future," Newton said. "If they don't have those IDs, then people will know not to park there."

City Attorney John Wolfe said such a requirement will probably need an ordinance. He said he could bring back a draft to be discussed at the City Council's May 6 meeting.

Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

Two arrested in parking scam at Tampa Bay Rays' first game 04/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 15, 2010 9:48pm]
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