A Virginia towing company accused of auctioning off service members’ vehicles, including those of a deployed Navy SEAL, agreed to pay a $90,000 settlement for its actions, according to a release from the Department of Justice.
Steve’s Towing Inc. in Virginia Beach, Virginia, settled on April 7 in a Virginia district court over a complaint that alleged the company failed to obtain court orders before selling vehicles belonging to at least seven troops protected by federal law as active duty service members.
“This resolution will compensate all of the servicemembers whose vehicles were illegally taken from them while they were serving their country,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in the release.
Court documents allege that as early as 2019 the company engaged in a pattern of violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, under which a towing company must determine whether a vehicle in its possession belongs to a service member. If so, a court order must be obtained prior to selling it.
The department launched its investigation after it was reported the company sold two vehicles, each belonging to a deployed Navy petty officer 1st class with SEAL Team 2, without first obtaining the proper court orders.
The unnamed SEAL parked his vehicles in a lot across from where he was based at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia, during an overseas deployment from about October 2019 to April 2020.
Around Jan. 3, 2020, Steve’s Towing towed the two vehicles. One of them, a Toyota Land Cruiser, contained evidence of the SEAL’s service, including a duffel bag with military uniforms and a Navy challenge coin.
The initial filing of the lawsuit in April 2022 came as a “complete shock” to Lee Gilliam, general manager at Steve’s Towing, Military.com previously reported.
“We love our military and would never auction off an active duty military vehicle knowingly,” Gilliam said.
The proposed consent order in this case still must be approved by the court, according to the release.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media