The Justice Department last week announced that the owner of a North Carolina towing company must repay US Marines whose vehicles he improperly sold, Military.com reported.
In a December 26 press release, the DOJ said under a proposed settlement agreement, Billy Joe Goines, the owner of Goines Towing and Recovery near Camp Lejune, would pay $66,805 in restitution for violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
US Attorney Michael Easley Jr. of the Eastern District of North Carolina said under the SCRA, debt collectors and towing companies are not permitted to “take and sell” the property of service members “behind their backs.”
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act offers legal and financial protections for service members.
Under the law, towing companies must file an affidavit specifying if a vehicle is owned by a member of the military before they can sell the vehicle. If the vehicle owner is a service member, a court cannot authorize the sale of the vehicle without first appointing an attorney to represent the interests of the service member.
The Justice Department accused Goines of repeatedly filing affidavits stating that his company was unable to determine if the owner was a service member despite failing to make a good-faith effort to find out and even when there were clear signs that the vehicle belonged to a service member.
The case was the first brought by the Justice Department against a towing company under SCRA, according to the press release.
As part of the proposed settlement, Goines must also pay a $30,000 penalty to the federal government to “vindicate the public interest.” However, the Justice Department noted that the penalty was “not an acknowledgment of liability or guilt” on the part of Goines.
The settlement will also require Goines and all employees from Goines Towing and Recovery to undergo annual training to ensure they remain in compliance with SCRA. New policies must also be implemented to further ensure the company stays in compliance with the law.