Corrupt Police Illegally Towed Hundreds of Cars from Poor People for Profit

Nicholas Iovino | Courthouse News Service

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — King City, in California’s Salinas Valley, agreed to pay $1.2 million to victims of a car-towing scam carried out by corrupt police officers who victimized poor Latinos.

Hundreds of low-income Latinos had their cars illegally towed and impounded after being pulled over for minor traffic infractions in the sleepy agricultural town of 13,900, according to the civil lawsuit and investigation by the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office.

Latinos constitute 87.5 percent of the population of King City, 150 miles southwest of San Francisco, according to 2015 U.S. Census data.





U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler approved the $1.2 million settlement on Jan. 25. Roughly 229 victims will be paid about $3,902 apiece.

At least eight King City officers conspired with Bruce Miller, owner of Miller’s Towing, to haul away and impound vehicles of poor Latinos from 2009 to 2014, according to lead plaintiff Jesus Garcia’s lawsuit.

Miller and police made the victims pay excessive fees to retrieve their vehicles, took cars for their personal use, and sold some for profit and pocketed the proceeds.

Plaintiff David Gutierrez was forced to pay more than $2,700 to recover his automobile.





Plaintiff Sergio Munoz was told to bring a $200 money order to the police station and to leave the payee line blank — just to find out how to get his car back. Munoz had to pay another $300 to retrieve the car from Miller’s Towing, according to court documents.

The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office investigation led to charges of conspiracy, embezzlement and bribery against six officers, including the city’s acting and former police chiefs, in 2014.

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