Riverside CA March 15 2020
A Riverside County sheriff’s lieutenant, sergeant and former deputy, as well as Temecula towing company owner, have been indicted by the Riverside County Grand Jury in what was described as a scheme to bribe the deputies in exchange for illegally steering extra business to the tow firm.
Lt. Samuel Flores, Sgt. Robert Martin Christolon, former Deputy Kevin Alton Carpenter and DJ’s Towing owner Cody Close face charges that include bribery and conspiracy, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said Thursday, March 12. The indictments were returned Wednesday. The men are scheduled to enter pleas on March 27 in Superior Court in Riverside.
In most areas, tow companies are called to traffic collisions and other incidents in what is called a rotation — they take turns responding to such scenes so that each company shares equally in the business. The Grand Jury heard testimony that Carpenter and Flores, who worked in the Temecula station’s traffic division, used DJ’s Towing out of rotation. Carpenter, who worked there part-time, falsely logged tows as traffic citations in the computer system in an attempt to avoid detection, a District Attorney’s news release said. When other members of the traffic division complained, Flores and Christolon “provided cover” for Carpenter, the release said.
Also, Flores used Close’s hazardous waste cleanup business even though the business did not have a contract with the Sheriff’s Department, the release said.
In exchange, the DA’s Office said, Close provided Flores, Christolon and Carpenter with free or deeply discounted vehicles, free meals and a free stay for Flores in Close’s beachfront home.
No attorneys were listed for the defendants in court records. DJ’s Towing’s Facebook page and website were inactive Thursday.
Flores, Martin, Carpenter were all charged with being a public official receiving a bribe, altering a computer system and conspiracy. Close was charged with three counts of bribing an executive officer and one count of conspiracy. All charges are felonies. All of the men were out of custody Thursday.
The sheriff’s department said Thursday that Flores and Christolon have been on administrative leave since Sept. 20. Carpenter was last employed by the department in August, according to a written statement from the department. The statement did not say whether Carpenter resigned or was fired.
“I am disappointed in these allegations, which do not reflect the integrity and daily good work of the women and men of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office,” Sheriff Chad Bianco said in the statement. “I am confident in the investigation conducted by our department and submitted to the District Attorney. We will continue to work with the District Attorney’s Office as they proceed with prosecution.”
The department’s statement did not address a question from this news organization about whether it had made any changes in its tow procedures to avoid a recurrence of these accusations.
This is at least the second bribery case involving an Inland law enforcement officer and a tow company in the past 10 years. In 2010, Mt. San Jacinto College Police Chief Kevin Segawa pleaded guilty to bribery and other charges after accepting gifts from Pirot’s Towing owner Morgan McComas to steer business McComas’ way. McComas was convicted of bribery as well.