Home While serving the country, military members had cars towed, illegally auctioned

While serving the country, military members had cars towed, illegally auctioned

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Servicemembers, including a member of the Navy SEAL team, returned from deployment to find their cars had been towed and auctioned off, without the necessary court order required by law.

Steve’s Towing Inc. in Virginia Beach has entered into a consent order with the Justice Department to pay $90,000 to settle the complaint that the company violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA.

“This case began with a member of a Navy SEAL team who returned home from an overseas deployment, only to find that a towing company had auctioned off two vehicles that he had parked at a military base,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This resolution will compensate all of the servicemembers whose vehicles were illegally taken from them while they were serving their country.”

The complaint, filed on April 15, 2022, alleged that Steve’s Towing failed to obtain court orders before auctioning off vehicles belonging to at least seven SCRA-protected servicemembers, including two vehicles belonging to a member of a Navy SEAL team who was deployed overseas.

The complaint further alleged that the company engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the SCRA and had no policies, practices, or procedures in place to ensure SCRA compliance.

Under the SCRA, a towing company must determine whether a vehicle in its possession belongs to a servicemember; if so, the towing company must obtain a court order prior to selling the vehicle.

“Servicemembers often rely heavily on their personal vehicles to commute to work and care for their families. A servicemember’s loss of a vehicle, therefore, can affect the military’s readiness,” said U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia. “EDVA is dedicated to holding accountable businesses who do not uphold the right of servicemembers under the SCRA.”

The department launched its investigation after a Navy legal assistance attorney reported that Steve’s Towing Inc. had sold two vehicles belonging to a deployed Navy SEAL without first obtaining court orders. One of the vehicles was a unique Toyota Land Cruiser. Stored inside the SEAL Team member’s Land Cruiser was evidence of his military service in the form of a duffel bag of military uniforms and a Naval Special Warfare Development Group Sniper challenge coin.

Under the proposed consent order, which still must be approved by the court, Steve’s Towing will pay $67,500 to the seven SCRA-protected servicemembers referenced in the United States’ complaint, up to $12,500 to compensate additional SCRA-protected servicemembers whose vehicles Steve’s Towing may have sold without first obtaining court orders and a $10,000 civil penalty.

Steve’s Towing will also be required to provide SCRA training to its employees and to develop new policies and procedures consistent with the SCRA.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.