CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - If you have recently attended a ballgame at Progressive Field, there is a good chance you may have unknowingly paid to park your vehicle in an illegal parking lot.
The city of Cleveland requires all parking lots and garages that charge customers a fee to park to be licensed and meet certain legal requirements.
But a Cleveland 19 hidden camera investigation caught USA Parking Systems operating a parking lot illegally, without a license, on game days in September and October.
The company's parking portfolio includes 20 facilities in downtown Cleveland.
Many of the lots are in prime locations, like the northeast corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
With its proximity to Progressive Field, it's a location that commands premium prices, especially during the playoffs.
On more than one occasion, our investigative team filmed USA Parking Systems employees charging customers $40 per vehicle to park in a unpaved lot on Sumner Avenue, a brick road just off of East 9th Street.
The vacant property borders a legitimate, licensed USA Parking Systems lot at the corner of East 9th and Sumner. It appears that USA Parking is using the unlicensed space as an overflow lot when the legitimate lot is full.
We estimate the illegal Sumner Avenue parking lot holds about 125 vehicles.
At $40 per vehicle, USA Parking could be raking in an extra $5,000 per game.
USA Parking's illegal lot on Sumner Ave. (Source: WOIO)
In addition to not having a license to operate or proper signage as required by law, the parking lot at 1212/1260 Sumner Avenue does not have the fencing, landscaping, paving and striping, as required under Section 457.07 of the city of Cleveland's Codified Ordinance.
On Sept.14, the Department of Building & Housing cited USA Parking Systems for using the vacant lot for public parking without a license.
When USA Parking Systems failed to comply with the city's citation by the ordered date of Sept.21, the company was served with a cease and desist notice that same day.
In a letter from Dedrick Stephens, Commissioner of Assessments and Licenses, to USA Parking's Damon Frangos, Stephens orders USA Parking to immediately stop all parking operations at the illegal lot and states, "If USA Parking continues to operate illegally, you will be subject to all penalties as stated in Chapter 457 of the Codified Ordinances."
According to the letter, penalties for violating any section of Cleveland's parking lot ordinances may include criminal charges, fines revocation of current parking licenses and/or a court order to shut down operations.
Despite receiving the cease and desist notice, USA Parking Systems continued to illegally park cars in the unpaved Sumner Avenue Lot.
We even caught one of the parking company's top bosses in on the action, weeks after they were ordered to shut down the bogus lot.
Damon Frangos, the Vice President and General Counsel for USA Parking Systems, was spotted by our team directing cars and collecting cash from unsuspecting customers who were attending Game One of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on Oct. 5.
Damon Frangos collecting money at illegal parking lot on Oct. 5 (Source: WOIO)
And apparently, we weren't the only ones watching.
The next day, Oct. 6, USA Parking was issued another citation for operating an illegal lot, this time by the Department of Finance.
But it still wasn't enough to dissuade them from continuing to break the law. USA Parking employees were back at it that same day, parking cars in the illegal lot ahead of Game 2 of the ALDS.
We approached the two employees and pointed out that they weren't supposed to be parking cars in the unlicensed lot. Both men hopped in their vehicles and drove away.
Soon after, Damon Frangos strolled past us and said, "No comment."
USA Parking Systems has filed an appeal with city hall.
We don't know how long USA Parking Systems has been operating the illegal lot, or why no one with the city of Cleveland knew the lot was not legit, but we plan to find out.