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Police in a small California town colluded with a towing company to impound the cars of poor people and then sell the vehicles for profit or keep them when the owners couldn't pay, prosecutors said Tuesday.
In all, Monterey County prosecutors charged six officers from the King City police department with crimes on Tuesday. King City is a town of about 13,000 people in the northern California's Salinas Valley.
The accused men, all taken into custody Tuesday, include former chief Dominic David Baldiviez, acting chief Bruce Edward Miller, Sgt. Bobby Carrillo and Mario Alonso Mottu, Sr.
Brian Albert Miller, of Miller’s Towing, was accused of conspiracy to commit a crime and bribing a police officer. He is the brother of the acting chief, Bruce Miller.
Three of the current King City police officers, the former chief and the towing company owner were charged with embezzlement and bribery in connection with the alleged vehicle scheme.
Prosecutors say evidence revealed that Carrillo impounded more than 200 vehicles and 87 percent of those were towed and held by Miller’s Towing. Miller, the prosecutor alleged, also gave numerous vehicles to Carrillo for free.
Two other officers, Jaimie Andrade and Mark Allen Baker were charged with other crimes. Andrade was charged with possession of an assault weapon and Baker was charged with making criminal threats.
A six-month probe of the department “began as a result of ongoing complaints of corruption and other criminal acts,” said Monterey County District Attorney Dean D. Flippo, who announced the charges at an afternoon news briefing.
"The victims were economically disadvantaged persons of Hispanic descent who were targeted by having their vehicles impounded, towed and stored by Miller's Tow," Flippo said.
“Most disturbing was that evidence was uncovered of a scheme whereby people participating in the scheme would receive free vehicles that had been impounded by officers within the department,” he said.
"I'm completely surprised. Accept a bribe? I've never done that. I'm blown away, I did not know this was coming," Bruce Miller told NBC station KSBW on Tuesday, calling it the worst day of his life.
"I think my career is done,” he added.
It was unclear if any of the accused had an attorney. Arraignments were scheduled for March 3.