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San Antonio auctioned off hundreds of service member vehicles, settles with DOJ

Aerial view of downtown San Antonio illuminated at dusk with Tower life building (Getty Images)

BEXAR COUNTY, Tex. (KTSA News) — The U.S. Department of Justice Thursday said it has reached a settlement with the City of San Antonio for illegally auctioning service members’ vehicles.

The federal government said from 2011 to 2019, the City of San Antonio unlawfully towed and auctioned off at least 227 vehicles belonging to service members in the city.

The investigation began when a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant filed a complaint saying the city towed and auctioned off her vehicle while she was deployed to Afghanistan.  In her case, when she learned that her vehicle had been towed to and impounded at the city’s Growdon Road Vehicle Storage Facility.  The staff sergeant and her military legal assistance attorney tried several times to arrange the release of her vehicle.  They even tried to arrange to get her personal items out of the vehicle.

Despite identifying herself as an active duty service member deployed overseas, the staff would not release the vehicle.  The city auctioned it off in September 2016.

Among the 227 cases uncovered by federal investigators, some of the vehicles towed and impounded were registered to addresses of military bases.  All of these cases were done without a court order.

By auctioning or disposing of cars owned by protected service members without a court order, the city violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Under the agreement, the City of San Antonio must pay $47,000 to compensate two service members who complained.  The city must also create a $150,000 settlement fund to compensate other victims and pay $62,029 to the U.S. Treasury as a civil penalty.  The city will also be required to obtain a court order or valid SCRA waiver before it auctions a vehicle owned by a protected service member.

“Service members who serve our country honorably should not have to come home to find that that their only means of transportation and its contents have been auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “We are pleased that the city has worked cooperatively with the department to reach a settlement that will compensate all the service members who lost their vehicles and will provide additional protections for the thousands of service members stationed in and around San Antonio.”

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