In King City, here’s how it worked.
Say you were a Latino without any financial means or political pull. Maybe you were undocumented, maybe you didn’t speak English or maybe you didn’t have a driver’s license. (Or maybe you were undocumented, didn’t speak English and didn’t have a license all at the same time.)
And say you were driving and saw the flashing lights of a patrol car coming up behind you.
If King City Police Sgt. Bobby Carrillo was behind the wheel, prosecutors say there’s a decent chance you were saying goodbye to your car for good.
Carrillo, along with former King City Police Chief Dominick “Nick” Baldiviez, acting Chief Bruce Miller and Officer Alonso Mottu Sr., face multiple felony counts in connection with a scheme in which Carrillo allegedly seized upwards of 200 cars and swung the lion’s share of the towing and impound business to Miller’s brother Brian, the owner of Miller’s Towing.
According to a complaint filed Tuesday by Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo, Carrillo received four free cars seized after the owners were unable to pay towing and impound fees. He also arranged for Brian Miller, who faces conspiracy and bribery charges, to give a fifth car to someone else. That someone else, Acting Chief Bruce Miller, stands accused of accepting a bribe – a 1996 Honda Accord.
Brian Miller and Carrillo allegedly completed Department of Motor Vehicles documents to transfer ownership of the vehicles, entering fake purchase prices despite the fact money hadn’t changed hands.
Then there’s Baldiviez, who retired last September after disappearing from King City for what he’s described as an extended vacation. (He’s still getting paid out vacation time, an arrangement that’s scheduled to run through August. The other officers have been placed on paid administrative leave.) Baldiviez is accused of embezzlement by a public officer for allegedly gifting Mottu with a police-owned or Explorer Program-owned vehicle. Mottu also faces embezzlement charges.
And in unrelated cases, King City Police Officers Jaime Andrade and Mark Allen Baker were also charged, Andrade with felony counts of possession of an assault weapon – a Colt AR-15 – and illegal storage of a firearm, and Baker with making criminal threats to a King City resident.
“THEY TAKE OUR PROPERTY, THEY TAKE OUR MONEY, THEY TAKE OUR CARS.”
In all, a third of the King City P.D. was locked up on Tuesday, rounded up just before 6am as five teams comprising Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies, FBI agents, Salinas police and District Attorney’s investigators delivered search warrants on six locations. Baldiviez, Carrillo, Andrade and Brian Miller were picked up at their respective homes, and Bruce Miller and Mottu Sr. were arrested at the police station. Baker, meanwhile, turned himself in at the sheriff’s department.
A weary Flippo described the towing arrangement as “an organized scheme,” and one that investigators have been examining for nearly half a year. The scheme itself, though, appears to date back to at least 2010, if not earlier, when Bruce Miller was a captain and Baldiviez was in his fifth year as chief.
“As we were investigating, we began to hear people saying ‘They take our property, they take our money, they take our cars,’” Flippo said. “The victims here are part of a targeted group, they’re disadvantaged and they were the ones losing their vehicles because they were unable to pay the storage fees, the towing charges and then the cars would be sold.
“This is not a pleasant time for any of us in law enforcement and certainly not a pleasant time for us in the District Attorney’s office,” Flippo added. “Any time you end up investigating and charging those sworn to uphold the law and treat everyone fairly… that is difficult for us. The citizens of King City deserve better than what they have been receiving.”
“THIS IS NOT A PLEASANT TIME FOR ANY OF US IN LAW ENFORCEMENT AND CERTAINLY NOT A PLEASANT TIME FOR US IN THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE…”
Just an hour after Flippo’s press conference in Salinas, police and residents – many aggrieved and many Latino – gathered for a second conference outside police headquarters in King City, where a piece of paper with the handwritten message, “Office is closed for today” hung on the door.
A couple of the city’s remaining cops – Sgt. Brennan Lux and Sgt. Alejandrina Tirado, who with 31 years of experience is the de facto acting chief until the city finds a new acting chief – gathered for a press conference outside the police station.
Mayor Robert Cullen and City Manager Michael Powers delivered brief, apologetic remarks, and reassured people the police department is still operating, thanks to sheriff’s deputies who have agreed to fill in on patrol duty.
“It is safe to say, we are all very disappointed,” Powers said.
But the press conference quickly transformed into a community meeting, as more than 20 residents gathered with questions and allegations of their own.
“I’m glad to see a lot of Hispanics here. Do you have an interpreter?” Barbara Martinez asked.
Cullen’s response: “I’d like to personally apologize for not providing an interpreter.”
“The only person I can trust is the sheriff,” Veronica Villa said in Spanish, through Martinez, who served as her interpreter. “I don’t believe in justice here in King City.”
“THE ONLY PERSON I CAN TRUST IS THE SHERIFF. I DON’T BELIEVE IN JUSTICE HERE IN KING CITY.”
Another woman recommended they get rid of the police department entirely, and just let the sheriff take over.
Cullen’s used to hearing suspicions around the police department, but claims he didn’t know the extent of it. He remembers wondering, “Is it a complaint, or the type of thing where you could go to any small town, USA, and hear a complaint?”
The accused cops and the tow company owner face arraignments on the felony charges starting next week.
And good, honest cops can look forward to trying to remove the taint of this case from themselves.
“It’s not right. They make us all look bad,” says one law enforcement source who asked to remain anonymous. “Cops across the country will be given a black eye by it. But I hope people remember that smart cops fixed it, too.”