JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After prosecutors accused a towing service of auctioning off the vehicles of service members who were serving overseas, that company has settled with the government and is paying back the sailors and soldiers whose cars, trucks and SUVs were taken.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation revealed that ASAP Towing and Storage auctioned multiple other vehicles registered to service members between 2013 and 2020 without obtaining the required court orders before auctioning them.
The first case reported to prosecutors was a vehicle that belonged to a lieutenant who was deployed aboard a submarine. The car had a base parking decal and “welcome aboard” documents inside, but ASAP did not investigate whether its owner was serving overseas.
“This case began with a member of the U.S. Navy who returned home from an overseas deployment in service to his country, only to find that a towing company had auctioned off his sole means of transportation,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a prepared statement. “The Justice Department must protect his rights just as he is protecting ours.”
Lt. Zane Berry — the Navy lieutenant with whom the case started — spoke with News4Jax
“On April eighth of 2018 my car was towed from my apartment complex for having a flat tire,” he said.
Berry is currently stationed in San Diego, but was living in Jacksonville when he came home to find his car was missing from his apartment after serving a six-and-a-half-month deployment overseas.
“I’m like yes I just got back from deployment, where’s my car? And they’re like, oh yes, we see here, April eighth we towed it, and then July 26ish, I think the time frame, we sold it because you never responded and we’re allowed to do that. And I’m like, I’m military,” Berry said.
After shown that it violated federal law, ASAP violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the company agreed to pay a $20,000 fine and pay up to $99,500 to compensate the service members whose vehicles were sold while they were away.
Vince Serrano, who is the co-owner of ASAP towing, according to its website, posted this comment on the News4Jax Facebook page, saying the company didn’t knowingly sell a running vehicle that belonged to military members:
Berry said he did eventually get his car back — a year after it was towed.
Dreiband said that the company cooperated in reaching a settlement to compensate all of the service members whose vehicles were taken.
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