A Dallas towing company has agreed to pay $50,000 as part of an settlement reached with the Justice Department regarding allegations the company illegally sold five service members’ vehicles, Justice announced today.
Justice officials filed the initial complaint Sept. 28, 2020 alleging United Tows, LLC, auctioned off the vehicles without obtaining court orders, in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. One vehicle belonged to now-Senior Airman Fassil Mekete, who was was attending Air Force basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in 2017.
According to Justice officials, when Mekete found out his vehicle had been towed, he contacted United Tows and told them he was out of town on active duty. However, the owner told him she didn’t believe he was in the military; and the company sold his 1998 Toyota Corolla at auction. Before leaving for basic training, Mekete had received permission from the owner of a martial arts studio to leave his car and some personal belongings in the studio’s parking lot, since he no longer had a lease in Dallas.
A subsequent investigation revealed that United Tows allegedly illegally sold at least four other vehicles belonging to service members between Oct. 4, 2014 and April 26, 2019.
Under the proposed settlement, which was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, United Tows must pay Mekete $20,000. The settlement must be approved by the court.
The four other service members will share an additional $20,000 from United Tows, and the company will pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury.
Officials at United Tows, LLC and their attorneys didn’t immediately answer Military Times’ requests for comment. However, the proposed settlement states, “The parties agree that, to avoid costly and protracted litigation, the claims against Defendant should be resolved without further proceedings or an evidentiary hearing.”
United Tows “not only disregarded the legal rights of service members, it made hurtful and dismissive comments about a member’s military service,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in an announcement Friday.