A top-ranking Los Angeles County Sheriff’s official bought a stolen luxury sedan last year from the owner of a towing company that contracts with his agency in apparent violation of department rules.
Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans paid $3,000 for the 2012 Audi A4, which had been seized by sheriff’s deputies from a suspected gang member at a drunk-driving checkpoint, the Los Angeles Times reported on its website Thursday morning. The sheriff’s department launched an internal investigation last week after The Times questioned Rothans about his vehicle purchase.
Rothans, the department’s third-ranking official, said he had no idea he was driving a stolen car until more than a year after he purchased it from Lisa Vernola, a longtime friend who owns Vernola’s Towing in Norwalk. He said he feels he did nothing wrong.
Rothans said he knew that department policy prohibited him from buying a car directly from a towing company, but he considered the transaction a private sale between himself and Vernola, who registered the car in her name after no one claimed it from her impound lot.
Sheriff’s officials are also barred from purchasing property that has been seized by the department. The prohibition applies both to direct purchases and purchases made through a third party. Employees also are prohibited from personally profiting from their positions.
Since 2006, Rothans has overseen the Pico Rivera Sheriff’s Station — first as the station captain, then as a commander and now as assistant sheriff over patrol operations. Vernola’s Towing has held a contract with the sheriff’s department to tow and impound cars.
Rothans has waived his right to keep the internal investigation private, allowing the department’s independent watchdog, Inspector General Max Huntsman, to monitor it.
A department spokesman said Sheriff Jim McDonnell “will take appropriate action based on where the facts lead us.”
The Audi was stolen from a dealership in Mission Viejo on the day after Christmas in 2011, according to The Times. Around Aug. 21, after driving the Audi on his off-duty hours for more than a year, Rothans received a notice from the DMV to take the car in for a VIN verification.
At the California Highway Patrol’s East Los Angeles station, an officer discovered that the VIN on the car’s dashboard belonged to a different car — a 2012 Audi, which was new when it was stolen from the Mission Viejo dealership.
—City News Service
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: