More than a third of the police officers in this Northern California town of 13,000 have been arrested, variously accused of bribery, embezzlement and threats charges.
Four are accused of developing a scheme to impound vehicles belonging to poor families, said Dean Flippo, Monterey County district attorney. After 30 days, those cars were turned over to King City police officers when the owners were unable to pay the impound fees.
The probe revealed that the scheme focused on poor Hispanic residents — including many who don't speak English. Census numbers show nearly 2 in 5 residents here are Hispanic.
"These people said, 'They are taking our property, they're taking our cars, they're taking our money and we can do nothing about that,' " Flippo said Tuesday. More than 200 vehicles were impounded, and 87% had been taken in by the same towing company.
Arrested were the following officials:
• Former police Chief Nick Baldiviez, charged with embezzlement by a public officer.
• Current acting Chief Bruce Miller, charged with accepting a bribe.
• Sgt. Bobby Carrillo, charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, accepting a bribe and bribing an executive officer.
• Sgt. Mark Baker, charged with criminal threats against a resident.
• Officer Mario Mottu, charged with embezzlement by a public officer.
• And Officer Jaime Andrade, charged with possession of an assault weapon and illegal storage of a firearm at his stepson's residence unrelated to the car scheme.
Also arrested was Brian Albert Miller, owner of a towing company and the acting police chief's brother. He was charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and bribing an executive officer.
All of those arrested were out of jail within hours. Bail amounts ranged from $10,000 to $60,000.
"There has been a significant breakdown in the internal leadership of the King City Police Department," Flippo said. "It also appears to me that some officers have dishonored their badge."
Carrillo was accused of receiving a free vehicle for every 10 to 15 vehicles he had impounded. Ultimately, Carrillo allegedly got five vehicles to keep or sell and gave one to Bruce Miller, then a police captain.
In 2011, prosecutors believe Baldiviez gave Mottu a free 2001 Ford Crown Victoria patrol car belonging to either King City or the King City Police Explorers, a nonprofit group that is part of the Boy Scouts of America. Baldiviez remains on the city's payroll in spite of his September retirement, Flippo said.
"I'm not sure we know all the cars that were taken," the district attorney said. He couldn't put a value on the vehicles handed out in the scheme.
None of Tuesday's arrests, part of a six-month investigation of complaints going back 3½ years, are related to accusations posted on the Internet that King City police officers skimmed money from recovered bank robbery funds, Flippo said. He wouldn't specify whether any of the officers arrested were implicated in that accusation.
"As we began to talk to individuals over the years, we were beginning to hear this constant theme that had been there for years prior, and that was a lack of trust and faith in the King City Police Department," he said.
King City criminal cases in which any one of the six accused was the arresting officer are under scrutiny, the prosecutor said.
So far three cases that cannot proceed without the arresting officer's testimony have been dismissed, said Terry Spitz, chief assistant district attorney. Other cases also may be dismissed.
"My reputation is soiled," Bruce Miller said. "There's no coming back from this even if I'm found innocent. People are always going to look poorly upon me."
He said he knew his department was being investigated but had no idea he was a suspect. He denied that he had accepted any bribes.
Almost all of the police force's upper management has been arrested, Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller said. His office is offering help in the interim as King City officials figure out how to continue policing the town about 135 miles southeast of San Francisco and 200 miles northwest of Los Angeles along U.S. 101.
"We have no plans to just go into the city and take over services, but our offer to the city is we're available from this point on to provide whatever level of law enforcement services the city requires," he said.
The King City Police Department has come under fire in recent years. In 2010, Baldiviez was placed on administrative leave after officers claimed he arrived intoxicated at crime scenes. The next year, Baldiviez came under scrutiny for allegedly placing overweight officers on a weight-loss program, claiming they were unfit to work.
Baldiviez officially retired in September after a four-month vacation. Bruce Miller has filled the chief's position on an interim basis since May 2013.
At the time, Bruce Miller said he would be interested in applying for the chief's position when it became officially available.
Baldiviez is also listed as one of several defendants in a November lawsuit clai