Guilty Pleas in Calif. Tow Yard Case

The manager of a South Bay tow yard and the company itself have pleaded guilty to felony counts of perjury and conspiracy as their months-long court trial was wrapping up in Los Angeles Superior Court, the District Attorney’s office announced.

S&W Towing and Storage Corp., which contracts with the City of Hawthorne to tow and impound vehicles, pleaded guilty to six counts of subornation of perjury and three counts of conspiracy. Manager John Germain, 46, pleaded guilty to identical charges during closing arguments before Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler. The trial had been under way for three months before Fidler, who was hearing the case without a jury.

Deputy District Attorney Frank Tavelman of the Target Crimes Division said Germain faces a possible maximum state prison term of 11 years when he returns to court for sentencing on May 5. The company also is to be sentenced at that time. Both Germain and the company could be fined and ordered to make restitution.

Charges against Germain and the company were filed two years ago. The complaint alleged the crimes occurred in 2003 and involved illegally claiming ownership of impounded cars, which were sold. There was no public auction, the prosecution alleged.

The prosecution also alleged the prices of cars sold by S&W were underreported to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Collectors were dispatched to the original owners, many of them with low incomes, claiming the sales of the vehicles did not cover fees and other charges.

The conspiracy counts to which Germain and the company pleaded were conspiracy to violate California’s Lien Sale Act, conspiracy to defraud a person of property and conspiracy to pursue a false suit by wrongfully turning accounts over to collectors.