Whistleblower: Minneapolis to pay impound refunds

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2011 - 12:32 PM

Minneapolis will notify people due money from vehicle auctions.

Minneapolis officials said Friday they would start notifying people if they are owed refunds from the auction of impounded vehicles.

The change in policy came one day after the Star Tribune reported that the city had kept thousands of dollars that should have gone to the former owners after auctions.

"The information given out wasn't clear enough," said City Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who chairs the committee that oversees the impound lot. Colvin Roy added that a permanent fix may be a few months away, because there's nothing in the impound lot's computer system to trigger a notice to the vehicle owner if a refund is due.

So far this year just one person out of as many as 428 eligible for refunds asked for one, leaving some $149,400 unclaimed.

Colvin Roy and city spokesman Matt Laible said the city has been complying with state law, which requires that the city set aside any surplus money for 90 days but doesn't say that the former owners must be contacted. Colvin Roy said it wouldn't be productive to send out a blanket statement about the refunds, because four out of five vehicles auctioned at the lot sell for less than what the owner owes the city.

But attorney Marshall Tanick said he thinks the law requires a notification, even if it's not explicitly stated.

"They say that they're following the law. My answer to that is that they're not following it very well," said Tanick. The city has an obligation to inform people about their rights, including their right to excess funds, he said. If the letter mailed out to vehicle owners doesn't spell out that right, it could be a federal civil rights violation that would have a six-year statute of limitations, he said. Tanick said his firm is looking into the possibility of filing a class-action lawsuit.

"At a minimum it's misleading and at a maximum it's more troubling than that," he said.

Tanick was contacted by Garr White on Friday after White learned that his car, a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass, was sold at auction this week -- for a second time -- even as he was asking the city about it. The Minneapolis resident went last month to the impound lot to get his car back, carrying about $400 to pay for towing, storage and ticket fees. He was told the car had been auctioned just hours before he arrived.

White said he called the impound lot Thursday to claim his cash after learning he was owed money as a result of that auction. He said he was told to call back the next day because workers were busy holding the monthly vehicle auction.

When White called Friday, he learned that he was too late once again: His car had been sold at auction the day before. The bidder who bought it the month before never showed up with the money, so the car had been sitting in the lot the whole time until Thursday's auction.

This time the bidder paid. The car was gone.

White said he learned that he will get $1,736 after filling out some paperwork, becoming only the second person this year to receive money from Minneapolis for the sale of an impounded vehicle.

"I would rather have the car," he said Friday, bemoaning the fact that the car sat unclaimed for several weeks. "They never sent a letter or anything."

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

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