Valet parking company faces theft accusations

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

SCOTTSDALE - For many people, a night out on the town means taking your car through a valet, but Gary Harper shows why you might want to think twice before handing your keys over to a complete stranger.

"And this is where I would have the firearm,” Shakir Muwwakkil explained as he showed 3 On Your Side where he always keeps his .38 Rossi pistol in his center console.

Shakir says that's exactly where it was when he drove up to a Scottsdale resort and went through valet parking.

“I kind of double-checked even before I gave him my keys so, it was there. It was there,” he said.

Shakir says he spent several hours at the resort before returning to his car. He says the first thing he did was check for the gun, but it was gone.

“I was immediately angry but at the same time became worried because now it’s like, my firearm is out in the public now. Who has it?” he said.

Shakir filed a burglary report with the Paradise Valley Police Department. He says he also notified the resort and the valet company, U.S.A. Parking, but claims his complaint went nowhere.

“The hotel has been blaming the valet contractor and the valet contractor has been blaming the hotel and so I'm stuck in the middle,” Shakir said.

3 On Your Side contacted the resort and U.S.A. Parking, but with no proof they say they're leaving the case to the police.

3 On Your Side wanted to know how often items turn up missing when you use a valet service, so we set up a few hidden cameras and also tucked away some cash inside a car belonging to one of our producers.

We handed over the keys to four different valets around the Valley, and with our cameras rolling, we were able to watch every move these complete strangers made.

Two valets did what they were supposed to and simply parked the car, leaving the cash alone.

A third valet didn't touch the cash either, but we discovered he didn't really know how to drive a stick shift. In fact, he stalled out our producer's car four times.

It was the fourth valet who caught our attention the most.

Our producer pulls up to a Phoenix hospital, the valet driver takes her keys and then he writes out a ticket. A few minutes later, he goes to park our car.

While he ignored the cash, he seems to be more interested in our producer's cell phone which was left in the car. We can't see what he's looking for, but he's certainly scanning through her personal information.

He looks at the phone not once, not twice, but three times different times on his way to a parking spot, before taking one last peek and then getting out.

3 On Your Side showed our video to the valet company, American Valet.

“That's not good, definitely not good,” company president Mike Pendergraft said.

Pendergraft explained to us that employees are forbidden from tampering with customers’ personal property, and says he's taking our video seriously.

“We won't tolerate it and this individual will be terminated and anybody that's caught doing this, or we've heard of doing it, will be investigated and terminated also,” Pendergraft said.

As for Shakir, police say they're still looking for his gun and no charges have been filed.

In a statement to 3 On Your Side, vice president of U.S.A. Parking, Christopher Kato, writes:

“It is our understanding that the matter involving the alleged missing gun occurred back in June.  The police investigated the matter. No one was arrested or charged with any theft.  We trust the judgment of law enforcement, and we will continue to cooperate with the police in this matter.”

As a reminder, always remove valuables from your car before you valet.