MOUNT VERNON — Audio tapes left in a drop box at the Mount Vernon News show how special deals with the impound lot fees are offered by the Mount Vernon Police Department, how vehicle owners are “buffaloed” and how the discretionary act looks bad, even to a high ranking officer in the department.
The tapes contain the voices of Sgt. Robert “Kit” Morgan, Capt. George Hartz, records clerk Wade Grogg and former Sgt. Mark Perkins. The conversations involving Morgan and Perkins appear to be instructional or training sessions as to how the impound lot is operated, how some people are offered “the deal” or how a plan is in place for a “reverse deal.” One such conversation was dated Aug. 26, 2011.
“Mike [Merrilees] OK’d me to offer them what we call ‘the deal,’” Morgan said.
Morgan explained the deal could be offered that essentially released an impounded vehicle with payment of the $90 towing fee, plus 30 days of storage, at $12 a day, for a grand total of $450, regardless of how many days beyond 30 the vehicle was in storage.
“We get our money to pay the tow and we get probably what we would have got out of it for scrap for the vehicle anyway and we don’t have to deal with it,” Morgan said.
For those who could not afford the $450 fees, a “reverse deal” would be offered.
“They come up here (MVPD) and sign the title over to the city of Mount Vernon and we will wipe the slate clean on the bill,” Morgan said. “If you don’t want to do that, and we have to go after ya, then we could take your car.”
The same conversation references Andrew Barber’s 1994 Jeep, which Morgan purchased from Barber with permission from Merrilees, while the vehicle was still in the impound lot.
“That one there,” Morgan said, “is Andrew Barber’s Jeep, he’s going to (expletive) when he gets the bill for this plus his $200 in parking tickets.”
At that point, Barber’s Jeep had been in storage for 50 days. He would have been required to pay $600 in storage, $90 in towing and $200 in parking tickets — if no deal was offered — to retrieve his car from impound.
In March 2012, Morgan purchased the Jeep by paying $200 in parking tickets, $450 in storage and towing and $1,000 in cash. Kelly Blue Book valued the vehicle at $3,013 a year after the deal was made.
Morgan also pointed out other vehicles that were in impound.
“These here are less than 30 days old, so we aren’t going to send letters,” Morgan said. “Normally, I don’t send letters to them until they’ve been in there for a while.”
On Jan. 22, 2013, Morgan explains how he “buffalos” vehicle owners into signing the title of their vehicle over to the city.
“A lot of them, once they contact us and you explain to them what the charges are and everything else, ‘Well, I can’t pay that,’ (they say)” Morgan said. “You kind of buffalo them a little bit. I say, ‘We gotta settle the books here at the police department. So, how do you want to do this? Do you want to pay for your car?’ A lot of the older ones, I’ll offer them a deal per what the chief says.”
Morgan again explains “the deal” and goes on to say that not everyone is willing to accept the deal.
“A lot of them will say, ‘I can’t come up with $450, my car’s not worth that.’ OK, then here’s what you do,” said Morgan. “Come in here and sign it over to us. If they come in here and sign it over to us ...”
“It’s not salvage,” Perkins said.
“It’s not a salvage, I don’t have to do all the other paper work. All you have to do is take it down and have them get us a new title and we can do whatever we want with it. But the buffalo thing I shoot at them is ‘Or, we’ll take it to salvage. Say we get $500 from salvage and you have a $3,000 bill on it, the city is liable to come back to you for the other $2,500.”
When titles are signed over to the city, original titles are issued. For vehicles that remain in impound for an extended period of time, the city can acquire a salvage title. Vehicles with salvage titles must be towed from the impound lot if purchased through auction and require a special inspection before they are considered road worthy. Generally, the police department sells vehicles with salvage titles for scrap rather than offer them at auction.
According to the audio tapes, Perkins had a conversation with Hartz on March 6, 2013, about the impound lot and how the decision is made as to whether or not “the deal” is offered.
“If I tell Progressive, it will cost you $3,000 to get this truck, car, bike, whatever, when I’m looking at some of the others, the fees are waived. It’s obvious there is some sort of discretion there,” Perkins said. “Who gives us that authority? ... I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of a (expletive) mess and I think that’s what that is down there.”
“Someone has to make that decision,” Hartz said. “But it’s done on a per case basis.”
Perkins questions that because there is no written policy as to how and when deals are made, it creates a sense of impropriety.
Hartz states that sometimes deals are offered because of the situation.
“Well, I don’t know if [Morgan] ever waived any fees directly; maybe he did,” Hartz said.
“If they want me to do it, or if you want me to do it, then I would like to see a schedule and I want to know by what authority I’m doing this job,” Perkins said.
“And as far as these fees go, I don’t want it to be up to me to waive fees.”
“That looks bad,” said Hartz.
“I agree that just looks bad. You can’t make that look right,” said Perkins.
“Cause once you do it, then Roger (Monroe)’s going to do it, then Troy (Glazier) might do it, then Wade (Grogg) is going to be waiving fees,” Hartz said.
“I just think it’s a bad precedent,” Perkins said. In an interview in May, Merrilees told the News the deal was only offered if Merrilees or Hartz gave approval.
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