ORLANDO, Fla. - Valet attendants working at a privately owned parking lot near Orlando International Airport promise customers that their vehicles will be locked and their keys secured while the travelers are out of town.
However, a News 6 investigation found that employees of Omni Airport Parking routinely leave car doors unlocked with the customers' keys placed in open view on dashboards and seats.
When travelers return to the off-site parking facility after their trip, employees have allowed some to wander the parking lot to retrieve their own vehicles rather than waiting for a valet attendant to fetch the automobiles.
That practice puts customers in unsupervised contact with other patrons’ unlocked vehicles and the belongings kept inside.
Law enforcement records show Omni Airport Parking is plagued by auto burglaries, including the thefts of jewelry, electronics and firearms from customers' vehicles.
"The security there was awful," said Garrett Cummings, a recent customer of Omni Airport Parking. "You expect your car to be locked up. You expect it to be taken care of."
In part to give the company adequate opportunity to address any deficiencies prior to the publication of this report, News 6 notified the operators of Omni Airport Parking about its findings nearly three weeks ago.
To date, the company has not indicated it has changed the way valet attendants secure vehicles or communicate their parking procedures to customers.
"At Omni Airport Parking we strive to provide the highest quality of customer service and security in our line of business," parking director Andrew Girges wrote in an email to News 6.
Girges originally suggested that valet attendants only leave the keys in customers' vehicles for a short period of time.
"There are instances upon valet check in where the vehicles may be temporarily stationed in our pending lot with keys, upon identifying the location in which it will be allocated," Girges wrote.
News 6 later informed Girges it had obtained video evidence confirming vehicles had been left unsecured in the facility's long-term parking lot.
"It is always our goal to provide a world class customer service experience to our clients," Girges wrote in response. "If and when we fall short of our promise, we make sure to go above and beyond to rectify matters and polish up policies and procedures if need be."
The parking manager did not respond to multiple follow-up emails from News 6 inquiring whether the company would be altering any company policies and procedures to improve the security of customers’ vehicles.
Girges, who is the son of Omni Airport Parking’s owners, was convicted in 2017 of vandalizing cars at a competing airport parking and car rental business, court records show.
Omni Airport Parking charges $6.99 per day for valet parking at their off-site facility, a budget rate compared to self-parking options at city-owned lots on airport property that range from $10-19 daily.
Video shows customer entering strangers' vehicles, starting ignition
When Cummings and his family returned home from a trip to Alaska in May, they rode on an Omni Airport Parking shuttle van for the 5-mile trip between OIA and the company's facility on Narcoossee Road.
Arriving after midnight, Cummings said they encountered a long line of frustrated customers waiting for employees to retrieve their vehicles from the main parking lot.
"(The customers are) shaking their heads. Some of them are cursing," said Cummings. "(Omni) had one person at the front kiosk and they had one person trying to do the valet. That's not nearly enough."
Eventually Cummings noticed another customer driving out of the parking lot.
"We asked, 'Hey, how did you get your car so fast?' They said, 'Oh, we just went back there and found ours. The keys were in the cup holder."
According to Cummings, he and other impatient customers began walking into the main parking lot, which is not secured by any gates.
"Nobody tried to stop us from going to the back," he said.
When Cummings eventually located his family's minivan, he said the doors were unlocked and the keys were inside.
However, Cummings could not immediately drive off with the van because he said it was blocked in by several other parked vehicles.
So Cummings climbed into the other customers' vehicles and began driving them around.
"There was no way we could pull out without having to remove some of the cars," said Cummings.
Several other customers were doing the same thing, according to Cummings, including one man he claimed was using a stranger's vehicle to drive around the parking lot in search of his own car.
"When we brought this to the attention of the (employee) out front that people were moving other peoples' cars, the guy literally threw his hands up in the air and said, 'What am I supposed to do?'," Cummings told News 6.
Before departing Omni Airport Parking, Cummings pulled out his cellphone and recorded video of himself opening the doors of unlocked cars and showing off keys left inside.
"The management is just God awful out here," Cummings said in the video he later posted on social media. "You can go in any car you like back here. The key is literally in the cup holder, accessible for any random person to come back here and smuggle a car if they'd like to."
In the video, Cummings can be seen holding up another customer's key fob and pushing a button to remotely start the ignition.
"Look at that. The car starts right up," Cummings said on the recording. "This facility is not safe."
News 6 undercover investigation confirms keys were left in unlocked vehicles
In an attempt to verify Cummings's account, a News 6 reporter made an online reservation to park an unmarked WKMG-TV news vehicle at Omni Airport Parking over Memorial Day weekend.
When the News 6 reporter drove up to the valet stand, an employee told him to place the vehicle's key in the cup holder.
The reporter asked a valet attendant whether the key would be left inside the vehicle.
"No, we're going to put the key in the key room," the valet attendant told News 6.
When News 6 called the Omni Airport Parking's telephone reservation line a few days later, an employee repeated the claim that the keys would be locked up.
"They put the keys away," the employee told News 6. "They don't leave the keys inside the vehicle.”
Omni Airport Parking employees reportedly told Cummings the same thing.
"They said they had a special cabinet for the keys themselves and our car would be locked at all times," said Cummings.
When the News 6 reporter returned to Omni Airport Parking to pick up the WKMG-TV car, several other customers were waiting for the valet to retrieve their vehicles.
With no gates preventing customers from entering the main parking lot and no obvious signs instructing customers to stay out of the area, the News 6 reporter and a videographer began walking into the lot in search of the WKMG-TV vehicle.
To verify they had permission to be in the main parking lot, the News 6 reporter approached a valet attendant who was driving down one of the parking aisles.
"Is it OK that we take a look around here?" the reporter asked.
"Yeah, go ahead," replied the valet attendant.
For more than an hour, the News 6 crew walked around the main parking lot unsupervised.
Inside every vehicle, News 6 witnessed keys placed on the dashboard, on the seats, or in the cup holders.
News 6 also documented valuables left behind in those vehicles, including electronics.
Inside a business truck, News 6 spotted a binder full of paperwork on the dashboard and the vehicle's keys on the passenger seat.
"I assumed it was locked in a secure area," said the vehicle’s owner, Trevor Rowell, when News 6 called the phone number listed on the side of his truck. "(The binder) has 200 customers' names, addresses and phone numbers."
"We put our trust in them to keep it safe and secure," Rowell added.
The News 6 reporter eventually located the WKMG-TV vehicle more than a quarter mile away from the Omni Airport Parking office in a grass lot with no overhead lights.
Contrary to what the valet attendant told News 6 when the vehicle was dropped off, the doors were unlocked and the key was set on the dashboard.
Vehicle burglaries reported at Omni Airport Parking
Orange County Sheriff's deputies have been dispatched to Omni Airport Parking more than 100 times in the past two years to investigate potential crimes including vehicle burglaries, law enforcement records show.
Deputies did not file formal reports in most of those cases, so the details of the calls are unavailable.
However, News 6 obtained nearly a dozen reports documenting items reportedly stolen from customers' vehicles including $5.00 worth of assorted change, house keys, a PlayStation video game console, jewelry and cellphones.
In addition, at least four guns have been reported stolen from customers' vehicles, Orange County Sheriff's Office records show.
Signs posted in the valet parking drop-off area instruct customers not to leave valuables in their vehicles.
Cummings believes Omni Airport Parking should be doing much more to safeguard its customers' vehicles.
"These cars were not protected at all," Cummings told News 6. "I was just appalled at how poor the security was in this situation."
Parking manager convicted of criminal mischief for damaging cars
In 2017, prosecutors charged the manager of Omni Airport Parking with burglary and felony criminal mischief after police arrested him at a competing business.
According to an arrest report, Girges climbed under a fence at Best Rate Car Rental and Parking and damaged thirteen vehicles.
A witness told police he saw Girges breaking mirrors on rental cars. Officers later seized a crowbar, black ski mask and gloves, the arrest report states.
The business owner, who is a relative of Girges, had been involved in a financial dispute with Girges’ parents at the time of the vandalism incident, according to a civil lawsuit.
Girges later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief in exchange for prosecutors dropping the felony charges.
As part of the plea deal, Girges agreed to pay $17,584 in restitution to the business owner, court records show.
Girges did not provide any comment to News 6 about his arrest and conviction.
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