Plea Ends Police Impound Kickback Scheme

     SALINAS, Calif. (CN) – A former King City, California, police officer pleaded no contest to a slate of charges stemming from a tow-truck bribery scheme that involved nearly a third of the police department and targeted low-income Latinos.
     The plea bargain represents the last chapter in a police corruption scandal that rocked the sleepy agricultural town of 12,000 situated on the Salinas River in Monterey County.
     Bobby Carrillo, 46, the mastermind behind the scheme, pleaded no contest to two counts of bribery and one county of perjury. He was one of six King City police officers, including acting Chief Bruce Miller, arrested for their roles in the 2014 corruption scandal.
     Carrillo was the last to settle his case. All six officers made plea deals, but only Carrillo faces jail time of up to two years in state prison.
     Carrillo and Brian Miller, the owner of Miller’s Towing and the brother of the former acting police chief, agreed that for every 10 cars impounded by Carrillo, Miller would give Carrillo one car free of charge, according to Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo.
     The investigation into the scandal showed that Carrillo impounded 87 percent of all cars he had towed in the Miller’s Towing lot, despite a city policy that mandated rotational towing among the city’s four tow-truck companies.
     Nearly all of those who had their cars confiscated by Carrillo and other involved officers were low-income Hispanics unable to retrieve their vehicles because the towing and storage fees were too high, according to Flippo. Miller’s Towing often sold the cars illegally or transferred them to Carrillo.
     Making matters worse, many of the victims were stopped without probable cause.
     “Bobby Carrillo abused his police powers for personal profit by targeting vulnerable members of the community who could not afford to regain their cars and who were unlikely to complain to authorities,” Flippo said in a statement.
     The perjury charge stems from Carrillo’s habit of doctoring DMV documents to create the appearance he had bought the cars from Brian Miller.
     Over the lifetime of the scheme, Carrillo impounded more than 200 vehicles. By comparison, two sergeants not involved in the scheme impounded less than a dozen cars total.
     Carrillo reached the plea agreement about three weeks ahead of his March 21 trial.
     Former Chief Bruce Miller, retired Chief Nick Baldiviez and Officers Mario Mottu and Jaime Andrade were named along with Brian Miller and Carrillo in a federal class action filed in March 2014.
     The case was filed by attorney Fernando Chavez, son of Cesar Chavez.
     Just last week, King City agreed to settle the case for $1.2 million, to be distributed among the more than 200 victims of the scheme.
     Carrillo will be sentenced on April 29 by Monterey County Superior Court Judge Judie Culver.

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