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Prosecutor: Cops in rural California town preyed on poor drivers

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 9:19 AM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • DA says officers would impound cars of people who couldn't pay release fees
  • The impound lot owner would turn cars over to cops, who sold or kept them
  • Among those arrested are the former chief and the interim chief, who says he did no wrong
  • CNN affiliate says small department is strained by the number of arrests

(CNN) -- The prosecutor in a rural California agricultural community says that police officers there preyed upon the poor, impounding their cars then selling the vehicles when the owners couldn't afford the fees.

Six officers, including the former police chief of King City and his acting replacement, were arrested Tuesday in the corruption scheme, as was the owner of a towing company.

Monterey County District Attorney Dean D. Flippo said the alleged scheme worked liked this: Sgt. Bobby Carrillo would impound a vehicle -- at least 200 of them -- and, though he was supposed to equally use one of four towing companies, he would call Miller's Towing 87% of the time. Carrillo targeted poor Latinos who couldn't pay the money required to retrieve their vehicles, prosecutors alleged.

Brian Miller, the tow company owner, would provide the unclaimed vehicles to Carrillo, Flippo said in a news release.

Many of the cars and trucks were sold by the officers, who kept other vehicles for personal use, prosecutors said. The FBI aided in the arrests.

Carrillo was charged with conspiracy, bribery and accepting a bribe.

Former chief Nick Baldiviez and Officer Mario Mottu were charged with embezzlement, while acting chief Bruce Miller -- Brian Miller's brother -- was charged with accepting a bribe. Brian Miller was charged with conspiracy to commit a crime.

CNN affiliate KSBW spoke to the acting chief as he left court Tuesday.

"I'm completely surprised. Accept a bribe? I've never done that. I'm blown away, I did not know this was coming," said the chief, who, like the other officers, is on paid leave.

Officers Mark Baker and Jaime Andrade were booked on other charges.

The defendants will be arraigned Monday. KSBW reported that all seven had posted bail.

The King City Police Department has only 17 officers. City Manager Michael Powers told KSBW that the police department's front office cannot remain open because so many officers were arrested.

The Monterey County Sheriff's Department will help patrol the city, the news release said.

Baldiviez was chief for nine years until last year, when he disappeared for months, according to the station. He then reappeared and announced his retirement in September.

King City is in southern Monterey County in the Salinas Valley. Its economy centers on agriculture and food processing. About 88% of the city's 13,000 residents are Latino, and about one in five of the people there lives below the poverty line.

CNN's Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this story.

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