Calif. Police Officials Charged with Seizing Cars of Poor Latinos and Selling Them

Policing for personal profit


So will the DA's office seize their property?

King City, Calif., is a small (population: 13,169) town in Monterey County with a population that is 87 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to 2010 census figures. The town's crime rate is around or below the national average, but the police there seem to have found ways to keep themselves busy. According to the county, the highest ranking officers in King City have been targeting their poorer Latino residents, seizing their cars, and then selling them for a profit or keeping them for themselves when their owners were unable to pay to get them back. The Monterey Herald reports:

In what is likely the most widespread case of official corruption in Monterey County history, six King City police officers, including the former and acting chiefs of police, were arrested on felony charges on Tuesday, four of them accused of conspiracy, embezzlement and bribery. The owner of a local tow truck company, the brother of the acting chief, was arrested in the scheme, which involved impounding the cars of mostly unlicensed drivers, then selling them when the cars' owners were unable to pay towing and storage fees.

Prosecutor Steve Somers, who is handling the case, said he considered charging the officers with hate crimes because they targeted disadvantaged Latino residents. He concluded their actions targeted the victims because they were vulnerable, not out of racial animus.

The district attorney's office had been investigating the claims for the past six months, but they've also been tracking allegations about wrongdoing at the police department for at least four years, according to the Herald. They were first alerted to this scheme thanks to online comments posted on a video of a town hall meeting in King City where citizens expressed their frustration with the city's police department.

Here's how the towing company gamed the system to make it almost impossible for victims' to get their vehicles back:

Ana Vargas, co-chairwoman of the South County Outreach Efforts and a King City resident, said community members have complained for months in front of the City Council about Miller's Towing and the outrageous rules they had to follow to recover their cars. She said Miller's required owners of impounded cars to keep them there for 30 days, with charges accruing. By the time drivers could pick up their cars, they owed $2,000 to $3,000.

"The cars were not even worth that much," Vargas said. Unable to pay, drivers would just abandon their autos.

Two of the officers were arrested on crimes that had nothing to do with the car scheme. The six of them comprise 35 percent of King City's police force.

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  1. Ahhhh, Civil Forfeiture, the gift that keeps on giving!

    1. Wait I should have read more carefully, this is just good-ole highway robbery, no need to forfeit, just have your buddy tow them away.

      Wait a minute, what was the original justification for the towing? Because the owners were unlicensed themselves?

      1. I’d bet it’s the fact that there are so many towable offenses on the books that they can cook one up after the fact that the owner can’t properly refute.

  2. Yet another reason to bring back the pillory.

    1. This. Four hours in the pillory would send a message not soon forgotten. I don’t think the townspeople would be throwing flowers.

      Plus, they should be assessed million-dollar fines and then have their homes confiscated when they are unable to pay*. Now that’s justice.

      *not until after a conviction, of course

  3. This actually raises an interesting question. Why is it that a towing company can flat-out steal your property and hold it hostage–after taking it onto their own property–because someone else either says they don’t want it on their property anymore, or even worse, because you haven’t paid the proper amount to pay on “public” property? I can see the argument that if a private property owner says “get off my property”, it could be removed. Of course, that raises the question of…removed to where? And how in the hell does that graduate to “we have now taken it onto our property and you can’t have it back until you pay”? How is that not abject theft?

    1. How is that not abject theft?

      Oh, I think we all know the answer to that. The initials are “FYTW”.

    2. All good questions. The situation you describe is a total subversion of the law. The towing company has a right to charge you for towing and storage. But owing them money should not give them right of possession to the car. It is your car and they should have to surrender it when you show up. If they want their towing and storage fees, they should have to collect that like any other creditor. Allowing them to keep your car would be like if you left your watch in the dressing room of a department store and they refused to give it back to you because you were delinquent on your credit card. One has nothing to do with the other.

      In no other case to my knowledge, does the law allow creditors to seize property that they don’t have a security interest in (which is the same as an ownership interest).

      Yeah, it is complete bullshit and nothing but local governments letting towing companies get away with theft.

      1. Yeah, it is complete bullshit and nothing but local governments letting towing companies get away with theft.

        Do the local govs let them get away it because the towing companies pay them a, ahem, franchise fee?

        1. I think you’d be stunned how often the towing company is related/connected to town officials, like in this case. I’ve never seen a towing company that wasn’t cronied up to the hilt.

          1. Yes. Towing companies have an enormous symbiotic relationship with cops, EMTs and local officials. Towing companies are probably the one form of business more scummy than bail bondsman, though it is a close run.

            Every successful towing company is so because of their relationship to and ability to share the graft with cops or local officials.

        2. In my city, the gov gets a cut of the towing and storage fees. It’s interesting how that influences officer discretion. Some vehicle code offenses allow for the car to be picked up at the tow yard on the same day (by a licensed driver), or they allow for a 30 day impound.

          Guess which one my city choses to do?

      2. The only legitimate way for.a.towing company to recover their costs (short of the owner.voluntarily paying) should be to.file a lien on the.vehicle.

    3. I would also add, even in cases where contractors do work on property and don’t get paid, they only get a mechanics lien on the house. They don’t even get an interest that allows them to foreclose on the property. They basically get the right to be paid if the property is ever sold and all of the secured lien holders can be paid with the proceeds.

      I am really surprised banks haven’t stood up and gone after the towing companies. If one of these assholes seizes a car with a lien on it, they are taking the banks’ property.

      1. It’s because it’s the perfect sweet spot of hostage taking. The car is something that it’s very hard to live without, and the price they charge is just small enough (though still outrageous) for people to just fucking pay it so they can get on with their life. Towing companies have found the perfect level of parasite, and that’s why they haven’t been dealt with. Your car getting towed sucks massive ass, but as soon as you’re driving away with your car in your possession again, you have far better things to do than sue the towing company.

        1. That’s the psychology behind the boot. Your car is right there, but you can’t use it. All you have to do is pay cash, and the boot comes right off.

          1. Like I said, perfect sweet spot of hostage taking. You want your multi-thousand-dollar chunk of metal back? Pay a percentage of that chunk of metal and you can have it back. By what rights are we ransoming your own property back to you? GOOD QUESTION.

          2. I’ve always wondered what would happen if you took some bolt cutters and and cut the boot’s lock off. What would the scum charge you with?

            1. I’m sure they wrote a law specifically for that. Which is why there’s a vigilante who goes around anonymously detroying them with an angle grinder.

              1. Angle Grinder Man’s website disappeared a few years ago, unfortunately.

            2. Destroying their property, of course! Don’t mind the damage to your rim/wheel/linkage/suspension, though. Just ignore that.

              (Also, the reason they make those things stronger than Fort Knox is because people would do exactly that.)

              1. Episiarch,

                There is apparently some kind of tool that only towing companies have that gets them off. If you knew where to get one, you could just take it off.

                Without the tool, bolt cutters would never do it. You would need a cutting torch, probably a plasma cutter, and some time.

            3. Nothing Warty because they could never prove it was you that did it. When they asked you about it, you just say “what boot? I got in my car and drove off”. They could never prove that you as opposed to a vigilante did it.

              If they could, I think it would depend on who put the boot on. If it was the city, they could probably dream up some “destruction of city property” charge. If it was some private party, they would at best have misdemeanor destruction of property.

          3. or know a handy-man with some tools, steel can be cut.

        2. You are right. They are fucking scum. The reality is that be it the city or a private party, if they want someone’s car towed, they should have to pay for it. If your car is on my property, for sure I have a right to tow it off. But why should I be able to tell the towing company to bill you? I can only do that because they can kidnap your car and make you pay. Take that away and they wouldn’t do shit until I paid them and it would be up to me to then get my money back from you, which is as it should be.

          Yeah, it sucks for me that I have to pay to tow your car off my property and hope I can someday collect from your dumb ass. But sometimes life is like that. Allowing towing companies to effectively steal people’s cars is a cure worse than the disease.

        3. Yup, just had to get a ride across town from my cousin because I forgot that my apartment complex also plows on Sundays, and if you haven’t moved your car by the appointed time, It’s gone, and you’re out $140.

          I wanted to be as big a dick as I could to the tow assholes, but what I wanted more was to get my vehicle back so I could go to work the next day.

      2. The towing company has access to the registration information via the police department. They never pull this shit when there is a lien holder.

    4. Because driving is a privilege?

      /left-wing devil’s advocate.

    5. In CA, the municipal police dept has an exclusive contract with a tow company for all of their impounds. In this case, it was the acting chief’s brother’s tow company.

      In the case of the Torrance, CA police department, they use Frank Scotto Towing Company for all of their impounds. Uncoincidentally, the mayor of Torrance is Frank Scotto.

      1. Frank Scotto Towing

        Huh, here in parts of Puget sound, the garbage is picked up by Nick Raffo Garbage Co.

        Coincidence? I think not.

        1. Fucking wops. Corrupt, all of them. Including me.

        2. It’s quite bold to name a garbage company after yourself. I like his style.

          1. Sandford & Son!

            1. Oh, this is the biggest one I ever had. You hear that Elizabeth? I’m coming to join you honey.

              1. The G stands for gorilla!

    6. This is the reason one should only drive stolen vehicles.

  4. Welcome to todays episode of: Antonin Scalias – New Police Professionalism?…

  5. Prosecutor Steve Somers, who is handling the case, said he considered charging the officers with hate crimes because they targeted disadvantaged Latino residents. He concluded their actions targeted the victims because they were vulnerable, not out of racial animus.

    Bullshit. Everyone knows “the vulnerable” are a protected class.

  6. The district attorney’s office had been investigating the claims for the past six months, but they’ve also been tracking allegations about wrongdoing at the police department for at least four years

    So, before the DA did anything about his corrupt comrades in the police department, he needed to spend four years investigating the proles who complained about the corruption. That about right?

  7. Do I have to purchase my poor Latinos by the carload or can I get them individually?

    1. They only come by the car load.

      1. No, you can get them individually. Home Depot sells them one at a time.

    2. Is there a shortage in the Orphan market?

      1. No but prices are out of control, with the rampant orphan speculation and all.

  8. A few cops here in Corpus Christi had a similar scam going: pulling over and impounding vintage, collectible automobiles insisting the cars were stolen. The cars were then purchased by the cops at auction or would mysteriously vanish. Fortunately, this came to a stop when the coppers tried this on the daughter of a local attorney who was driving a sweet ’72 Dodge Challenger.

    1. They really thought they could get away with that forever? Do you have a link to a newsstory about that? That is amazing. People who have collector cars are generally not poor and have the resources to fight.

      1. Seeing as this was over a decade ago, and I refuse to pay to access our local fish-wrap, I was unable to come up with a link. I will keep looking and try to get back to you. Suffice it to say that it was a similar scenario to the story above. Poor folks tooling around in a cool old hooptie and BAM, pulled over, impounded, etc. AND NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED

  9. OK, I’ve think I’ve had all the corrupt cop nut punches I can stand for one day.

  10. If anyone wants to create a Cop or Gangbanger test, those mug shots are a good start.

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