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California police arrested over car-impound scheme targeting Latinos

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A corruption probe in a small California town has resulted in the arrests of four current and former police officers for stealing impounded cars belonging to mostly poor Latino drivers, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Those arrested on Tuesday in the agricultural town of King City included interim Police Chief Bruce Miller and his brother Brian Miller, who owns a towing company, said Monterey County Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz.

"The victims were economically disadvantaged persons of Hispanic descent who were targeted by having their vehicles impounded, towed and stored by Miller's Tow," Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo said in a statement. "The vehicle owners were unable to pay the fees and the vehicles were sold or provided for free to some of the officers."

King City has about 13,000 residents and is located 145 miles south of San Francisco and is more than 87 percent Latino, according to U.S. Census figures. Many residents work in agriculture, and the average per capita income for a King City resident is $13,800.

Brian Miller and Sergeant Bobby Carrillo face bribery charges. The acting police chief, who is suspected of receiving at least one of the stolen vehicles, has been charged with accepting a bribe. Recently retired Chief Dominic Baldiviez and another officer are accused of illegally embezzling a city-owned vehicle, Spitz said.

During the probe, an officer was arrested on charges of possessing an assault weapon and the illegal storage of a firearm. Another officer faces charges of making criminal threats against a resident, Spitz said. All have been released on bail.

Spitz said he did not know if the men had retained private counsel or would be assigned a public defender.

Calls to the city manager's office and the police department were not immediately returned.

The arrests are the result of a six-month corruption investigation into the King City Police Department that began with complaints from residents and people within the department, Spitz said.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)

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