Towing company agrees to pay troops for illegally selling their vehicles

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A Dallas towing company has agreed to pay $ 50,000 in a settlement reached with the Department of Justice over allegations the company illegally sold the vehicles of five military personnel, Justice said today. .

Justice officials filed the initial complaint on September 28, 2020, alleging that United Tows, LLC, sold the vehicles at auction without obtaining court orders, in violation of Civilian Rescue Law. One vehicle belonged to Senior Airman Fassil Mekete, who was undergoing basic Air Force training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in 2017.

According to justice 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 owner told him that she did not believe he was in the military; and the company sold its 1998 Toyota Corolla at auction. 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 studio parking lot, since he no longer had a lease at the studio. Dallas.

A subsequent investigation revealed that United Tows 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 US District Court for the North Texas District on Friday, United Tows must pay Mekete $ 20,000. The settlement must be approved by the court.

The other four members of the service will share an additional $ 20,000 from United Tows, and the company will pay a civil fine of $ 10,000 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, in order to avoid costly and protracted litigation, claims against the defendant should be resolved without further proceedings or the hearing of evidence. “

United Tows “not only ignored the legal rights of the military, but also made hurtful and contemptuous comments about a member’s military service,” Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Department’s Civil Rights Division said on Friday. Justice.

“We were appalled to learn that this aviator returned from basic training to find his car being auctioned off,” Acting US Attorney Prerak Shah, North Texas District, said in the announcement.

Since 2011, the Department of Justice has obtained more than $ 474 million in monetary relief for more than 120,000 military personnel as part of the SCRA application. The SCRA enforcement is led by the Housing and Civil Law Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorneys nationwide.

Members of the military and their 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 has developed SCRA policies and procedures for the sale and scrapping of vehicles, in order to comply with the SCRA. Among other things, the company examines any information received from owners or others, looking for evidence of military service, and examines the vehicle and its contents for evidence of military service such as documents, uniforms or military equipment; and searching the Defense Personnel Data Center to determine if the individual is eligible for SCRA protections. If the owner is determined to be in the military, the owner cannot sell the vehicle without first obtaining a court order.

United Tows has also developed SCRA training material for its employees and provided these materials to justice officials for review.

Personal 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 is co-author of 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, Georgia.


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