Towing company illegally auctioned off troop cars, including deployed Navy SEAL, Justice Department says


A Virginia Beach, Va., towing company illegally auctioned, sold, or ransacked the vehicles and personal effects of at least seven U.S. service members, including two cars belonging to a Navy SEAL deployed overseas, according to a complaint filed on April 15 by the Department of Justice.

Government court documents allege that as early as April 2019, Steve’s Towing Inc. began violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, which guarantees certain financial and housing protections to active-duty members, when the company failed to acknowledge the military ownership of several vehicles and obtain a court order before putting them up for auction.

The DoJ is seeking damages for the Navy SEAL and other affected service members in a Virginia district court.

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“The Department of Justice is taking steps to ensure that all service members harmed by unscrupulous actions receive just compensation,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the department’s Civil Rights Division said in a press release. .

This is not the first time the DoJ has gone after companies for selling troop vehicles in their absence. Towing companies must receive a court order to dispose of property belonging to a military member during their military service, or for 90 days after separation, thanks to the SCRA, which was enacted in 2003.

DoJ court documents identify an unnamed Navy NCO 1st Class from the elite SEAL Team 2, based at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Va., who parked his two cars in a lot in front of headquarters while he was deployed overseas. from approximately October 2019 to April 2020.

His 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser HZJ73 — containing a military uniform duffel bag, plus a Navy Challenge coin — and his 1987 Toyota 4Runner had Arizona license plates and registrations, l state where his parents live.

Around January 3, 2020, Steve’s Towing towed the two vehicles and about a month later filed an application with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to take possession of the property, shortly after purchasing the two vehicles from him. -even for $500 each.

Although the auto service company contacted the Virginia DMV, the state where the cars were recovered, it would not have done so in Arizona, where the vehicles were actually registered.

Friday’s filing came as a “complete shock” to Steve’s Towing chief executive Lee Gilliam.

“We love our military and would never knowingly sell an active duty military vehicle,” Gilliam said in an interview.

The case was filed in court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division, and no court date has been set.

The DoJ advises service members and dependents who believe their SCRA rights have been violated to approach the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office.

As of Monday afternoon, Steve’s Towing had not received court documents, Gilliam said, but the company continues to tow vehicles for military police.

— Jonathan Lehrfeld is a member of Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media.

Related: DOJ cracks down on towing companies seizing troop cars

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