District Attorney Dean Flippo (photo: Nic Coury, Monterey County Weekly)
The acting police chief and his predecessor in Monterey County’s King City were arrested Tuesday along with two other officers and accused of stealing impounded cars from disadvantaged Latinos.
County District Attorney Dean Flippo said more than 200 vehicles were impounded over the past three and a half years and many were sold or given to police officers for free. One sergeant was said to receive a car for every 10 to 15 he had towed. “I’m not sure we know all the cars that were taken,” Flippo said.
Acting Chief Bruce Edward Miller, former Chief Dominic “Nick” Baldiviez, Officer Mario Alonso Mottu Sr. and Sergeant Bobby Javier Carrillo were charged with bribery, accepting a bribe or embezzlement.
Carrillo was said to be the main protagonist. He was charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, accepting a bribe and bribing an executive officer. He allegedly held on to a Pontiac LeMans, a Ford Expedition and a Ford Explorer and gave one car to Miller.
Two other officers were arrested in the sweep, which involved Sheriff's deputies, Salinas police and FBI agents, and were charged with unrelated crimes. Officer Mark Allen Baker was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats and Officer Jaime Andrade was accused of possessing an assault weapon and illegally storing a firearm. The King City police force has 17 officers in a town of 13,000.
Although the city has contracts with four towing companies, one handled 87% of the business. Brian Albert Miller, the operator of that towing company, is the brother of the acting chief. He was also arrested.
All seven were out of jail on bail almost immediately.
The six-month investigation was the tail end of a longer probe that began with a rash of gang slayings in 2010. Flippo said a videotaped town hall meeting about lack of progress in that investigation was posted online and received numerous comments about stolen impounds. Investigators relied on impound records to build their case, because, in the carefully chosen words of the Monterey County Herald, “the nature of the migrant community” precluded interviews with many of the victims. Most of them were said to be unlicensed drivers.
Ana Vargas, co-chairwoman of the South County Outreach Efforts, told the newspaper that King City residents had complained for years that Miller’s Towing had an outrageous policy for handling the often junky vehicles. Owners of impounded cars were required to keep them there for 30 days while charges mounted to more than $2,000, she said. Few people would, or could, pay the fee.
“I'm completely surprised,” Bruce Miller told NBC station KSBW. “Accept a bribe? I've never done that. I'm blown away; I did not know this was coming.” He said it was the worst day of his life.