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City Police Chief's kid and other officals had use of impounded cars

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  • City Police Chief's kid and other officals had use of impounded cars

    IMO, the only collective group that's more slimey than politicians and used car salespeople, would be the towing industry.

    By Joe Mahr and Jeremy Kohler

    St. Louis — During Labor Day weekend 2002, St. Louis city police responded shortly after midnight to an unusual call.

    The police chief's daughter, Aimie Mokwa, then 27, had crashed a car.

    It was a car she didn't own. St. Louis police had seized it during a drug arrest and turned it over to a private company that holds a lucrative towing contract with the department. That company gave her free use of it.

    The company has supplied her with more vehicles — until the Post-Dispatch began asking questions this spring and, police say, Chief Joe Mokwa ordered the firm to stop it.

    That 2002 incident is at the heart of questions about what the chief knew about freebies his daughter received from a company his department fed thousands of tow jobs a year.

    There are also questions about how many police officers received similar perks, and how the tow company gained so much business when the city had its own towing operations.

    Beyond her getting free use of the car in 2002, the newspaper found that Aimie Mokwa bought three other vehicles from the company for less than half of their typical wholesale value — saving her more than $10,000 off what dealers could expect to pay for similar vehicles.

    On Friday, the police department first acknowledged part of the arrangement. The next day, it began contradicting details in an investigative report from its own law firm on when the chief learned of the arrangement.

    The law firm, Armstrong Teasdale, announced that Aimie Mokwa and a number of unnamed officers had been given free use of previously impounded vehicles owned by an arm of the private tow firm, St. Louis Metropolitan Towing.

    In a 17-page report, the firm asserted that the chief did not learn of the practice until this spring, when he ordered a stop to the "largess."

    But on Saturday, the president of the Board of Police Commissioners, Chris Goodson, said Chief Mokwa did know before this spring about his daughter driving formerly impounded cars. Goodson, though, could not say how long Mokwa knew about it. Still, he defended the chief, noting that Aimie Mokwa is not part of the department.

    "The private citizen using a vehicle is not improper. It's not illegal," Goodson said.

    Goodson said Friday the chief ended it after being alerted that the media was asking questions. Goodson said Mokwa did it to keep from harming the public perception of the department.

    Goodson's statements drew a sharp rebuke from the 1,100-member St. Louis Police Officer's Association.

    Sgt. Gary Wiegert, association president, said the chief had to know about his daughter's use of the vehicles back to 2002.

    Wiegert also said he questions whether any officers really got free use of cars, suggesting it is a ruse to "defer attention away from the people who actually knew what was going on."

    "There are a whole bunch of questions that, I think, need answering," he said.

    Mokwa refused for a second day to talk about it. His last public statement on the issue was in a press release, in which he noted "the absolute necessity in maintaining transparency in the eyes of the public."

    Also not returning messages for comment were representatives of the towing company, which saw its referrals for tows soar during Mokwa's tenure.


    In May 2001, Joe Mokwa beat out two department veterans to become chief. Four days later, his officers seized a car that would end up in his daughter's possession.

    According to police reports, officers seized a 2000 Dodge Neon after finding crack cocaine on a nervous passenger. They confiscated the car and had it taken by Metropolitan Towing just as the company was beginning its ascendancy to become the city's de facto impound lot.

    For two decades before, the city ran its own impound operation for cars seized in crimes or abandoned on the streets. It got the fees and the profits from the auction of unclaimed cars. It commonly turned a profit, although officials can't say how much.

    When space got too tight, the city turned to private contractors, including S&H Parking, known mainly for its parking lots downtown.

    Early in Mokwa's tenure, S&H created a new arm, St. Louis Metropolitan Towing, which quickly began taking charge of high-value cars — those seized during crimes. They are especially desirable because they generally are in better shape than abandoned cars, and have keys and run.

    Prosecutors routinely drop the seizure cases in court, allowing the owner to retrieve a car for the price of towing and storage. The tow company keeps half, and the city and police department split the rest. If the owner doesn't show up within a month, the tow company becomes the new owner.

    It can auction such vehicles or transfer them to another S&H arm, called Parks Auto Sales, which can sell them individually.

    Or Parks can hang onto them — and let selected people drive them for free.

    That's what they did with the Neon.


    When no one picked up the Neon, Parks became owner in August 2001. At some point thereafter, Aimie Mokwa got to use the late-model car.

    Armstrong Teasdale said it did interview her and her husband, James Goodrich, but its report offers no details. They could not be reached by reporters.

    It's clear that she was driving the car on Sept. 3, 2002.

    At 12:30 a.m., on a side street in the Northhampton neighborhood, the Neon crashed into two parked cars and flipped onto its roof. She was uninjured.

    Two officers wrote a brief crash report, saying she simply lost control. As usual, they checked ownership of the vehicle. They wrote down Parks Auto Sales.

    They cited Aimie Mokwa for lacking a valid license, driving without insurance and having expired plates. The report did not indicate why she was driving Parks' car, or whether the chief was notified.

    Wiegert, the union official, said the chief had to know. For one thing, he said, Joe Mokwa has long been friends with Gregory Shepard, a former city officer who is the manager of St. Louis Metropolitan Towing. Shepard could not be reached for comment.

    Wiegert said in his opinion, "This was some kind of sweetheart deal."


    Next, Aimie Mokwa got a 1999 Ford Escort. This time, Parks did transfer the title to her, in November 2002, according to state records.

    The price for the car: $1,100.

    Determining values of used cars, particularly those bought off police impound lots, can be tricky. Some may be in poor condition or carry the stigma of being in an impound lot.

    But according to National Auto Research, a Georgia firm that specializes in determining auto values, that type of car was typically worth three times as much. And that was if it was in poor condition, and sold on the wholesale market.

    A St. Louis consumer would have expected to pay more than $5,000 on a used car lot for a similar car in poor condition.

    Two months after buying the car, Aimie Mokwa was in another crash. At 1 a.m. one Sunday morning, she rear-ended a car in south St. Louis County. County police reports show that she had a blood-alcohol level of 0.170, more than twice the legal limit, but police never sought charges.

    Recently asked why, county officials said they have no idea.

    Aimie Mokwa kept the car, and three years later turned to Parks again. She upgraded to a 2-year-old Chevy Malibu.

    This time, she didn't buy it — at least not immediately.

    Armstrong Teasdale acknowledged Friday that she benefitted from a long-term "test drive" that lasted "several months."

    State and court records show it was 10 months.

    Parks obtained the unclaimed impound car in January 2006, when it had 52,000 miles. Aimie Mokwa later told another police agency that she got the car the next month. She and her husband, a former city police officer, didn't buy it until December 2006, when it had 79,000 miles.

    When they did buy it, they paid $1,500 — a fourth of the minimum wholesale value of that type of vehicle at the time, according to National Auto Research. Had they paid retail, they could have expected to pay $7,550.

    By the time they bought it, their free use had already been exposed.

    A Warren County deputy sheriff stopped Aimie Mokwa for a traffic offense a month earlier. Beyond finding the car had illegal plates and that she lacked a valid license, deputies found the car was supposed to be in a St. Louis impound lot.

    It was a mistake — city police failed to re-classify the car in the police computer system after it had been released to Parks' ownership.

    Still, the mistake eventually launched questions that led to the exposure of the tow company's practices.


    Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison told the Post-Dispatch on Saturday that his department called St. Louis police that day in 2006 to alert them to the traffic stop. When asked Saturday if he spoke to the chief, and what was said, the sheriff hung up and did not return a message seeking elaboration.

    It would take nearly two years for the tow company's practice to make the news.

    In that time, Aimie Mokwa faced felony drug and theft charges for unrelated cases in Warren County, and she again turned to Parks for a used car.

    State records show she bought a 1999 Dodge pickup in November 2007. It was eight years old, with 151,000 miles. National Auto Research says that even in rough condition it was worth $5,000 wholesale, and $6,700 at a car lot.

    Parks filed paperwork with the state putting its worth at $1,500. Aimie Mokwa paid $850.

    Meanwhile, Parks' sister company, Metropolitan Towing, was enjoying another boom in business.

    St. Louis police launched a "pilot program" to not only give it all the cars seized in crimes, but every car that police wanted impounded from three police districts, and all those tagged for tow by a special traffic safety unit.

    Claude Gunn, who runs the city towing operation, said police have sent Metropolitan Towing trucks to districts on calls that were supposed to be reserved for city-owned tow trucks.

    "S&H sometimes gets some of ours, as well, in those districts," he said last month. "We never get theirs."

    In May, police department spokesman Schron Jackson said the expanded program reduced officers' wait for tow trucks and that the "relationship with St. Louis Metro Towing has proved beneficial."

    By then, however, the department had quietly hired Armstrong Teasdale to review that relationship.


    In April, the Post-Dispatch began asking questions about Aimie Mokwa's use of the Chevy Malibu in 2006.

    That same month, Chief Mokwa received a tip from "law enforcement sources" about the queries, according to the Armstrong Teasdale report.

    It says the chief immediately told Parks to stop lending vehicles to his family. Mokwa also alerted Goodson and other police board members, and urged the hiring of a law firm to investigate.

    Armstrong Teasdale assigned two attorneys, including a former federal prosecutor noted for his expertise defending white collar crime.

    The attorneys stood beside Goodson on Friday as he released their 17-page report. It lacked details on the type of cars provided to Aimie Mokwa or police officers, except that they were "often in poor condition with little value." There is no explanation of how they determined that, other than asking the tow company.

    Regardless, the attorneys said, there's no proof Parks ever got preferential treatment, so at worst it might be a violation of police rules.

    Still, Goodson said, the police department will stop using Metropolitan Towing and turn over all towing business to the city.

    He said the case was closed.

    But the criticism has yet to end.

    U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway questioned why police didn't bring in the FBI or Missouri Highway Patrol to investigate.

    Goodson said it was unnecessary because the board's lawyers determined that nothing illegal had happened.

    He said using the law firm was "a very thoughtful, very proactive step by the police board."

    The police officers' association isn't convinced. Albert S. Watkins, its lawyer, said the executive board will meet Monday to discuss asking for an investigation "by authorities in a position of power to do something about it.

    "And that doesn't mean a private law firm."

    [email protected] | 314-340-8101

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    Make America Great For Once.

  • #2
    Doesn't every Chief of Police have this perk????
    I agree with Davhaf.....Kaiser March 9,2004

    Official Lounge co-sponsor of Jason Motte.

    Mick Jagger is in better shape than far too many NBA players. It's up in the air whether the same can be said of Keith Richards.

    Bill Walton


    • #3
      Chicago has the same problem.

      Fucking tow companies. They all should be shot.


      • #4
        What crummy cars she used. I don't understand the risk-reward ratio of this pathetic whatever it was.

        Crookedness and controversy in st. louis---whether it is police, school, or fire department---is just pathetically inept.

        I am going to miss Burke. At least that asshole was entertaining.


        • #5
          FBI and IRS raid St. Louis Metropolitan Towing.

          jj twiggs - A great family restaurant

          Dear God, KBF here. I'd just like to say thanks, once again, for allowing Dusty Baker and I to live during the same time period. Every time I think he's given me his last gift -- overpitching Prior in the playoffs, getting cocky in Game 6 vs. the Angels, blowing another game for the Cubs -- he does something stupid like pitching to Albert Pujols. Thy will be done, baby!!!!!


          • #6
            Originally posted by Donuts_For_Koharski View Post
            FBI and IRS raid St. Louis Metropolitan Towing.



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