30 September 2018

Just Another Day at the Office

by R.T. Lawton

Okay, I was going to write something about Bouchercon for this Sunday's blog, but not too long after I got back from St. Petersburg, there was a curious letter in my stack of mail. The letter was addressed to me at my home and had a return address from the Colorado Springs Police Department. First off, they never write to me about anything, and second, if it's not a request for help of some kind or a speaking engagement, then it can't be something good.

My wife opened the letter and told me I might be in trouble. I grabbed the letter and started reading. It seemed that I was hereby being notified that in accordance with the Revised Municipal Code of the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Motor Vehicle Laws that the following vehicle has been impounded:

     Vehicle:    1990 WHI JEEP WRANGLER          Lic. Plate:   CO960YCR
     VIN:         2J4FY29T7LJ516354                         Impound #  3259-18
     Reason:    RECOVERED STOLEN               
     Date:         09/17/2018          J Strachan  1778

The storage fee was $30 a day and if the vehicle was not claimed, then it would be sold at auction on 01/14/2019. Also, I could not claim the car after 4 PM because they close the office at that time.

WOW!

This was a lot to think about, mainly because I had never owned a Jeep Wrangler of any year or color, much less an old 1990 white one. And, to my knowledge, I had never owned or licensed any vehicle which had been subsequently stolen. Was this a scam letter? If so, how were they hoping to get the money? Had I missed something? Or was this a new type of sting operation run by the police to see if someone would try to get a vehicle on the cheap by making a false claim and bonding out the car? And most importantly, why was my name and address tied to a stolen vehicle?

Time to do some sleuthing.

I called the telephone number for the police impound lot. Not the number on the letter. I knew better than to do that, thus I called the number on their internet website. Turned out to be the same number. So much for being cautious. After a long taped recitation of my choices as to which button to push in order to speak with the party I needed, I finally got put on hold until a real person came on the line. I explained the situation and that I had never owned this Jeep, nor did I know anything about it.

The impound lot employee was polite and sounded helpful. He plugged the impound number into his computer and started checking.

HIM: "So when you took the license plates off..."
ME:   "No, no, I never owned the vehicle. I don't have anything to do with it."
HIM: "Okay. Well, the new owner picked it up today."
ME:  "That's good, but how did my name and address get associated with the stolen Jeep?"
HIM: "Just a minute, I'll check the file."  LONG PAUSE  "The DMV said that's who the VIN came back to."
HE & I in CHORUS:  "Have a good day."

Next step, drive to the DMV and wait in line. Twenty-four people in the vehicle registration line ahead of me. My ticket number in the queue is 654. Drivers license people and other problems get different group numbers than the 600 series. I settle in. Just before I fall out of the chair asleep, the loud speaker announces my number.

At Desk #3 (there are well over twenty numbered desks surrounding our cattle pen), I hand my letter from the impound lot to the nice lady and explain my problem. She also takes my driver's license for proper identification and then consults her computer. After much careful looking, she assures me the VIN on the stolen Jeep in my letter is not registered to me.

"Then how," I inquire, "did the police department get my name?"

"Well," she says, "the name on the VIN is very close to your name."

It appears that I got caught in the scatter gun approach to legal notification. And that was all the information I could gather. I never did find out the owner's name, nor whether he was the new owner or the old owner, nor the complete circumstances of the stolen Jeep. You know, like who stole it to begin with and how was it recovered?

It's tough not being in law enforcement anymore, a position where people would give you the rest of the story.

Now, it's just another day at the writing office.

What next?

10 comments:

janice law said...

At lest you got an interesting blog about it!

Melodie Campbell said...

Okay, musing on how to figure out how to get a crime story out of that!

Barb Goffman said...

Mel and I had the same idea!

Eve Fisher said...

Well, we all know there's a story coming out of that one.
Meanwhile, I've been getting multiple calls telling me that my student loans (which were paid off back in 1995) are in default, and I need to call back to get the consolidated. Deadline tonight. Tomorrow. Tonight. Tomorrow.
It's an interesting world.

Paul D. Marks said...

R.T., sorry we didn't get to meet at Bouchercon.

Re: your post, a bureaucratic nightmare. I had a similar situation where I was talking to Chrysler about my Jeep (yes, I owned one, maybe it was the one you were getting the notice about ;-) ) and in the conversation they insisted I also owned a mini-van. I told them I NEVER owned a minivan. They would not believe me. We got into a huge argument. Some customer service guy. And he ended up subscribing me to a ton of magazines as revenge. You often can't argue or win with moron bureaucrats.

Leigh Lundin said...

RT, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the opposite happened to me. Through a combination of a nefarious person and and sloppy DMV records, the chain of ownership leading up to me disappeared, vanished, erased.

Since then, I've been researching and watching more related YouTube videos than any sensible person should. It's astonishing how often it happens, sometimes with dire results when police think a vehicle is stolen.

In you case, something else may be involved. Remember those voter-fraud match programs that failed so spectacularly during the elections? After elections, government administrative geniuses got the idea that even if the software couldn't match voters, maybe it could match citizens in other ways. Hence, routines mechanically comb state and county databases looking for sort-of, kinda, maybe matches, and assure government clerks that indeed, here's a solid match. These programs are being used and believed with increasing fervor. I wouldn't be surprised if your name jumped databases in exactly that manner.

Eve Fisher said...

Leigh, I wish I'd thought of that.

R.T. Lawton said...

Thank you one and all for reading and commenting. And yes, parts of that event will probably find its way into a story, especially since the majority of my stories include charcters I've run in to or events I've observed.

R.T. Lawton said...

Paul, sorry we missed each other at Bouchercon. I did talk with Michael Bracken and Art Taylor, and introduced myself to Barb Goffman after one of her panels. Missed you and Thomas Pluck. Might find you in Dallas next year.

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve and RT, I can't find another item I was looking for about a man arrested and given anti-psychotic drugs. When police couldn't locate their suspect, they crawled and trawled databases until they found a name that kinda, sorta matched. They arrested him, then found a record referring to mental problems, had him hospitalized and administered two different drugs to sedate him.

Eventually his family found him, discovered police hadn't checked his alibi (he had been at work at the time of the incident), and learned he'd been drugged. I'm betting this is another example of voter fraud matching software at work for us.