Towing company agrees to pay soldiers for illegally selling their vehicles

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A Dallas towing company has agreed to pay $50,000 as part of a settlement reached with the Justice Department over allegations that the company illegally sold the vehicles of five service members, Justice announced today. .

Justice officials filed the initial complaint September 28, 2020 alleging that United Tows, LLC auctioned off the vehicles without obtaining a court order, in violation of the Military Civil Aid Act. One vehicle belonged to current Senior Airman Fassil Mekete, who was undergoing basic Air Force training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in 2017.

According to law enforcement officials, when Mekete discovered his vehicle had been towed, he contacted United Tows and told them he was out of town on active duty. However, the landlady told him she did not believe he was in the military; and the company auctioned its 1998 Toyota Corolla. Before leaving for basic training, Mekete had received permission from the owner of a martial arts studio to leave his car and some personal belongings in the parking lot of the studio, since he no longer had a tenancy. Dallas.

A subsequent investigation revealed that United Tows allegedly illegally sold at least four other military-owned vehicles between October 4, 2014 and April 26, 2019.

Under the proposed settlement, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Friday, United Tows must pay Mekete $20,000. The settlement must be approved by the court.

The other four service members will split an additional $20,000 from United Tows, and the company will pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the US Treasury.

United Tows, LLC officials and their attorneys did not immediately respond to Military Times requests for comment. However, the proposed settlement states that “the parties agree that, to avoid costly and protracted litigation, claims against the defendant shall be resolved without further process or hearing of evidence.”

United Tows “not only ignored the legal rights of service members, but made hurtful and dismissive comments about a member’s military service,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the department’s Civil Rights Division said Friday. of Justice.

“We were appalled to learn that this airman returned from basic training to find his car auctioned off,” Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah, for the Northern District of Texas, said in the announcement.

Since 2011, the Department of Justice has obtained more than $474 million in monetary relief for more than 120,000 service members in its enforcement of the SCRA. SCRA enforcement is conducted by the Housing and Civil Law Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division and US attorneys nationwide.

Service members and dependents who believe their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office.

As part of the negotiated settlement, United Tows developed SCRA policies and procedures for the sale and disposal of vehicles to comply with SCRA. Among other things, the company examines any information received from owners or others, for evidence of military service, and examines the vehicle and its contents for evidence of military service such as military documents, uniforms or ‘equipment ; and search the Defense Workforce Data Center to determine if the individual is eligible for SCRA protections. If it is determined that the owner is military, the owner cannot sell the vehicle without first obtaining a court order.

United Tows also developed SCRA training materials for its employees and provided these materials to Department of Justice officials for review.

Staff reporter Davis Winkie contributed to this report.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for over 30 years, and co-authored a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families”. She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Florida and Athens, Ga.


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