A private St. Louis company impounded many cars for the city police, stored each of the cars for a month, labeled them “abandoned,” and sold them – keeping the cash. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reviewed three dozen cases and hundreds of police and court records, uncovering a system that preyed on the public. Police aggressively towed cars, lot workers made unnecessary demands of car owners, and sometimes, lot owners took cars from those too poor, too timid, and too troubled to fight.
The department has admitted that the company – St. Louis Metropolitan Towing – provided free use of cars to then-police Chief Joe Mokwa’s daughter and an unknown number of officers. Lot owners William and Kenneth Bialczak have not responded to requests for comment. The newspaper reported last week that the company failed to pay nearly $700,000 in fees owed to police and the city over the past two years. Last year police directed more than 8,000 vehicles to Metropolitan’s lots from those improperly registered to those wrecked in accidents. In 1991, the Post-Dispatch found police departments across the region that seized cars from suspects, and then negotiated with them for cash payments to get their cars back and avoid charges. Lawmakers tightened the rules in the 1990s. For the government to keep cars, prosecutors had to prove that the cars had been used in crimes and that owners knew. Plus, any money from selling the cars went to schools – not police.