Police officers in a Central California town took part in a scheme in which more than 200 cars belonging to poor Hispanic people were impounded, towed and later sold when the car owners couldn't pay the fees, authorities said Tuesday.
Four officers — including the recently retired police chief and the acting chief — have been arrested, and two other officers were also arrested Tuesday on unrelated charges, Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo said.
The six officers account for more than a third of the 17-member force in King City, an agricultural town of 13,000 people about 150 miles southeast of San Francisco.
Early Tuesday morning, teams from the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, the FBI, the Salinas Police Department and the county district attorney's bureau of investigation arrested the officers after a months-long investigation, which began as a response to complaints of corruption and criminal acts within the department, Flippo said.
Authorities said that, in some cases, officers simply kept the cars for their own use.
The four officers tied to the alleged car theft scheme have each been charged with bribery, accepting a bribe or embezzlement. They are: Sgt. Bobby Javier Carillo; Acting Chief Bruce Edward Miller; former Chief Dominic David Baldiviez; and Mario Alonso Mottu Sr.
Brian Albert Miller, the operator of a towing company who is also the brother of the acting chief, has also been arrested in the case.
"I'm completely surprised by the arrest this morning," Bruce Miller told a KSBW reporter on his was way out of jail after his bond was posted.
He said he had known his department was being investigated but had had no idea that he was a suspect. He denied that he had accepted any bribes in the car theft scheme.
"My reputation is soiled," he said. "There's no coming back from this, even if I'm found innocent, people are always going to look poorly upon me."
The front office of the King City police station house was closed Tuesday afternoon. King City Manager Michael Powers told The Associated Press that Monterey County sheriffs and officers from the nearby cities of Gonzales and Soledad have volunteered to help the city with police duties now that so many of its officers have been taken off duty.
"Obviously, people are in shock, and so is the city staff," Powers said. "But at the same time, we can't tolerate corruption in the police department."
Associated Press writers Paul Elias and Sudhin Thanawala contributed to this story from San Francisco.