ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) – The United States Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that they had settled with an Onslow County towing company that they say violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by towing and then selling vehicles without disclosing to the court that they were owned by servicemembers.
Justice Department officials filed a complaint on March 3 that claims that Goines Towing & Recovery, which is located near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, had auctioned off, sold, or otherwise disposed of motor vehicles owned by eight servicemembers in violation of the SCRA.
Officials say that the SCRA provides a wide variety of financial and housing protections to members of the military.
The act requires a towing company to file an accurate affidavit that shows whether or not the vehicle’s owner is in military service before it can get a court judgment authorizing it to sell a stored vehicle. The act also says that If it appears that a vehicle’s owner is in military service, the court can not authorize the sale of the vehicle until it appoints an attorney to represent the interests of the servicemember. If that attorney then requests a postponement of the matter, the court must grant that request and postpone the case for at least 90 days.
The complaint against the towing company claims that Goines either failed to file or filed inaccurate military affidavits with the court.
It also says that Goines filed military affidavits stating that he was unable to tell whether a vehicle owner was in the military even in instances where the vehicle at issue was towed from a military installation or had military decals on it, and even when the vehicle owner or owner’s spouse had informed Goines that the owner was on active military service.
“Goines took a Marine Corporal’s SUV from a parking lot near Camp Lejeune while he was deployed in Okinawa. Then Goines asked a court to let him sell it and keep the proceeds, without ever flagging the Corporal’s service for the court,” said U.S. Attorney Michael F. Easley Jr. for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “Servicemembers sacrifice a lot — and, in many cases, everything. Debt collectors and towing companies shouldn’t be allowed to take and sell their property behind their backs. The Justice Department will vigorously enforce servicemembers’ rights under the SCRA. Try to illegally take property from a Marine and find out.”
The department says that this is the first lawsuit brought by the United States against a towing company under the provision of the SCRA requiring the filing of military affidavits.
Under the settlement, which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Goines has agreed to pay $66,805.06 in relief for impacted servicemembers, must forgive storage fees assessed to certain servicemembers, attend SCRA training and institute new policies and procedures that comply with the SCRA.
“Under federal law towing companies are required to file accurate military affidavits after making a good faith effort to determine whether vehicle owners are in military service,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “By failing to follow federal law, Goines deprived servicemembers of the opportunity to reclaim their vehicles. This consent order demonstrates the Justice Department’s ongoing commitment to protecting the rights of servicemembers and their families.”