SAN FRANCISCO — In a predawn sweep that stunned the Salinas Valley town of King City, the acting police chief, a former chief, other police employees and a towing company owner were arrested Tuesday, some on charges connected to a scheme to steal impounded cars belonging mostly to Latino immigrants, authorities said.
A police sergeant was allowed to keep one impounded vehicle for every "10 to 15" he steered to a towing company owned by the brother of the acting King City police chief, according to a criminal complaint.
The acting chief, a former chief, other police employees and a towing company owner were arrested Tuesday on multiple charges, including a scheme to steal impounded cars belonging to mostly Latino immigrants, authorities said.
Among the vehicles he allegedly kept: a 1970 Pontiac LeMans, a Ford Expedition and Ford Explorer.
The 5:59 a.m. sweep Tuesday came after a six-month investigation that was led by the Monterey County district attorney's office and spurred by "ongoing complaints of corruption and other criminal acts within the King City Police Department," Dist. Atty. Dean Flippo said in a statement.
Flippo told reporters at an afternoon news conference in Salinas that King City residents -- many of whom are poor and cannot speak English -- told him, "The police are taking our property. They are taking our cars. They take our money. And we can do nothing about that."
Authorities said that while investigating those allegations, they stumbled across other alleged crimes they also pursued. The investigation is ongoing, Flippo said.
Those arrested in connection with the alleged vehicle scheme were: Acting Police Chief Bruce Miller; his brother Brian Miller, owner of Miller Tow; Sgt. Bobby Javier Carrillo; longtime Chief Dominic "Nick" Baldiviez, who retired last September; and Officer Mario Alonso Mottu Sr.
The charges include bribery, embezzlement and conspiracy.
According to the complaint, Carrillo sent 87% of 200 vehicles impounded between March 2010 and last November to Miller Tow, even though the city had towing arrangements with four companies, and received cars in return.
Acting Chief Bruce Miller allegedly received a vehicle as a bribe from Carrillo in an influence-buying arrangement. Baldiviez and Mottu were charged with embezzlement by a public officer for an incident in which Baldiviez transferred ownership of a marked patrol car -- complete with Department of Motor Vehicle documents -- to Mottu, said Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Terry Spitz.
Also arrested were Officer Jaime Andrade, who was charged with possession of an assault weapon and illegal storage of a firearm, and Sgt. Mark Allen Baker, charged with making criminal threats.
Criminal complaints allege Andrade possessed a semiautomatic Colt AR-15 with the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and stored it in a manner where "a child was likely to gain access to it."
Baker is alleged to have threatened a man named Leon Rosalio Infante.
Bruce Miller told a KSBW-TV reporter after posting bail that he was "completely surprised" and "blown away" by his arrest.
"The charges they are looking at is receiving or requesting a bribe, and I've never done that," the acting police chief said. "I was aware of the investigations but I didn't know that I would become a suspect.... My reputation is soiled. There's no coming back from this, even if I'm found innocent."
The agricultural community of fewer than 13,000 residents along Highway 101 is more than 80% Latino. Antonio Rivas, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens' Council of Salinas, said his organization was "very upset" about the allegations and will press the City Council to "take the matter very seriously and … hopefully restore the trust of the community." Elected leaders pledged to do so.