SBSO Sheriff

By Beatriz Valenzuela, San Bernardino Sun
and Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 07/01/15 – 11:14 AM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department employees purchased vehicles at lien sales and flipped, or resold them after the vehicles had been seized during investigations, the Grand Jury found.

The San Bernardino County Grand Jury included the scheme in its report for fiscal year 2014-15 which was released Wednesday morning. The report also found that the sheriff’s aviation department failed to properly file civilian ride-along waivers more than half the time.

The Grand Jury report also found that the aviation department failed in properly completing 80 percent of those ride-along waivers submitted over the last three years. The incomplete waivers lacked, in some instances, background checks, authorized signatures and other required information.

The Grand Jury also looked into the city of Colton’s annual financial audits as well as staff interactions, recommending that a secure “facility” be found for storage so that proper document retention policies could be followed.

This report also touched on bullying and school districts’ preventive programs as well as conditions at five of the county’s detention facilities. The Grand Jury visited Central Juvenile Detention and Assessment, High Desert Juvenile Detention and Assessment Center, Rancho Cucamonga County Superior Court House Holding Area, San Bernardino County Justice Center Holding Area, and Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center — and one state facility — California Institution for Men. The Grand Jury found no major discrepancies at any of the facilities they visited.

The allegations about sheriff’s deputies purchasing seized vehicles were made in a lawsuit filed by two current sheriff’s deputies and a retired sheriff’s sergeant last year alleging whistleblower retaliation.

Former Victorville sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Jordan and deputies Brian Moler and Jeff Wetmore filed the lawsuit on July 25. Last month, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Donna Gunnell Garza set a trial date for May 16, according to online court records.

While working as a detective in Adelanto in 2011, Jordan learned of an alleged racket in which deputies from the narcotics division would seize and impound cars, purchase them during lien sales and either sell them for profit, a practice known as “flipping,” or give them as gifts to members of their families. The father of a deputy who owned the tow company would tip off deputies about cars preparing to be sold at auction, then provide discounts to deputies, often thousands of dollars below Blue Book value, according to the lawsuit.

According to the Grand Jury report, an addendum was made to the Sheriff Department’s tow service agreement in February 2013 which states that “all companies participating in the (Sheriff’s Department’s tow service agreement) will no longer be allowed or permitted to sell and or give vehicles, motorcycles, motorized vehicles and any other property directly related to the towing businesses that are currently in the sheriff’s tow service agreement to a Sheriff’s Department employee or their immediate family.”

Another proposed revision was added in March of last year which states that “in order to avoid any appearance that a seizure was for personal gain, employees shall not possess property that has been seized by the (d)epartment.”

The report goes on to say that sheriff’s officials were aware of the “issues regarding towing and sale of both towed and seized vehicles and has taken steps to resolve them.”

According to the lawsuit, in 2010, Jordan discovered that deputies with the narcotics unit would routinely tow and then later purchase seized vehicles to sell them for profit. They did this in part by using one particular tow company owned by the father of a sheriff’s deputy, the lawsuit alleges.

This would be a direct violation of the tow policy which indicates that tow companies are on a rotating list.

Jordan reported the towing activity to his lieutenant, who told him there would be an internal affairs investigation and he would be interviewed, but no one ever called Jordan to follow up. When Jordan asked his lieutenant why he was never contacted by internal affairs, he was told the matter had been handled, according to the lawsuit.

Jordan was subsequently transferred to the Victorville substation, where he was assigned weekend graveyard patrol. He encountered even more problems there, and started receiving less than favorable performance reviews, according to the lawsuit.

In January and May 2013, Captain Sam Lucia and Lt. Jon Billings, respectively, were assigned to the Victorville station. Shortly thereafter, Moler was summoned into Billings’ office, where he was confronted by both Billings and Lucia, who pressured Moler into changing a citation he issued to a secretary who worked for the sheriff’s Victor Valley station in Adelanto to a warning citation, the lawsuit states.

Jordan, according to the lawsuit, learned that ticket fixing was allegedly rampant at the Victorville sheriff’s station, and Billings often pressured deputies to change red light camera citations to warning citations, especially those issued to “young, attractive women.”

Billings also implemented a ticket quota for motorcycle deputies of 200 citations a month, and threatened to strip deputies of their take-home bikes and assign them to work weekends if they “screamed quota,” according to the lawsuit. Ticket quotas are illegal in California as well as other states including New York, Illinois and Florida.

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