7/20/2008Missouri: Police Caught Driving Impounded Cars
Police in St. Louis seized cars, then freely drove them for months at a time. Perk extended to troubled daughter of police chief.
Cars seized from motorists are being used as the personal rides of police officers and their relatives in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigative reporters uncovered the scandal while tracking down how Aimie Mokwa, 33, daughter of Police Chief Joe Mokwa, ended up driving vehicles registered to St. Louis Metropolitan Towing and its subsidiaries.
Like many cities across the nation, St. Louis has adopted an ordinance giving police officers the ability to grab automobiles from people suspected, not necessarily convicted, of certain crimes. Cars not recovered within thirty days are declared the property of St. Louis Metropolitan Towing, which splits profit from towing fees with the city. Such arrangements can generate millions in revenue for municipalities.
The St. Louis program had an additional benefit. The tow yard became a virtual rental car agency for local police officers who would take out "abandoned" cars for their own free, personal use for months at a time. The "test drive" privilege extended also to Aimie Mokwa.
If the officers and their relatives enjoyed the vehicles, they were offered the opportunity to purchase them at discounts of up to 75 percent. For example, Aimie Mokwa "rented" a one-year-old Dodge Neon that had been impounded in May 2001. In September 2002 she flipped the Neon after crashing into two parked cars on perfectly dry pavement.
Aimie Mokwa replaced the Neon with a 1999 Ford Escort that she purchased from the tow company for $1100, even though its book value was at least $3750. She rear-ended another car with the Escort in January 2003. Officers investigating the collision determined she had a blood alcohol level of 0.17, but they did not charge her with drunk driving. In December 2006, Aimie Mokwa bought a 2004 Chevy Malibu from the tow yard for $1500, despite the vehicle having a book value of at least $5850. Last October, she bought a 1999 Dodge Dakota for $850, even though the vehicle was worth at least $5025.
On Friday, the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners released the report of a private law firm hired by the department to investigate the free car program. It concluded no laws were broken.
"The most that can be said would be that [the towing firm] is endeavoring to create a reservoir of future good will with the 4th District and the Department generally," the report said, as quoted by the Post-Dispatch.