DOJ attacks towing company for auctioning off cars of active duty members

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A Dallas-based towing company towed and then auctioned off vehicles owned by members of the military while on active duty, the Department of Justice alleges in a federal civil lawsuit filed Monday.

United Tows actions violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a federal law that protects military finances while in service, federal attorneys have said.

The towing company does not have a lawyer registered in court records. The company did not immediately respond to a voicemail message asking for comment, and several phone numbers listed for its owner were out of service.

The lawsuit highlights the case of an airman who began basic training in August 2017 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

He arranged to leave his 1998 Toyota Corolla in the parking lot of a martial arts studio in the Lake Highlands where he had taught. Because he had terminated his apartment lease, he stowed personal items in the car, including a laptop and a gym bag, according to the lawsuit.

In September of that year, United Tows towed the Toyota to its parking lot east of Oak Cliff. A friend noticed she was missing several days later and called the towing company, who said the car would be auctioned off after 45 days in the field.

The friend was unable to contact the aviator for several weeks as the military restricted communications during basic training, but was able to tell him in late October that the car had been towed.

The aviator then called United Tows to explain that he was an active duty member and would not be able to retrieve his car for some time. A woman who said she owned the towing business said she didn’t believe he was in the military, the lawsuit said, and reiterated the Toyota would be sold if he didn’t. not claiming it.

After the airman completed his basic training, he immediately had to report for technical training at another Air Force base and did not return to Dallas. He allowed a friend to retrieve his things from the car, but the laptop was missing and the gym bag was cut with a blade, the lawsuit said.

United Tows auctioned off the car on November 17, 2017, authorities said, forcing the aviator to walk, use rideshare services, or rely on friends to get around until he could buy a other vehicle.

The Justice Department said in the lawsuit it had found at least four other cases where United Tows had auctioned the car of an active duty member:

  • On July 31, 2015, she sold a 2001 Lincoln LS owned by an aviator.
  • On September 16, 2016, she sold a 2000 Lincoln Town Car owned by an aviator
  • On July 7, 2017, she sold a 2004 Toyota Rav4 owned by a serviceman.
  • On October 12, 2018, she sold a 2002 Pontiac Grand Am owned by a Coast Guard sailor.

In neither of those cases did United Tows have a court order, according to the lawsuit. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act requires such a command for someone to seize or exercise a lien on the property of an active duty member.

The lawsuit also alleges that United Tows has no written policy on complying with the SRCA or determining whether the vehicles it is auctioning are owned by service members.

The government is asking the court to award “appropriate pecuniary damages” to each of the servicemen whose cars were auctioned. The lawsuit also calls for United Tows to be fined and required to take action to comply with the SRCA in the future.

“When members of our military answer the call to serve our country, they should be able to do so without having to worry about their vehicles or property being auctioned off while they are on duty,” the attorney general said. Deputy Eric Dreiband of the Department of Justice. The Civil Rights Division said in a written statement.

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© 2020 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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