Three Riverside County sheriff's deputies and a tow truck operator allegedly conspired to steer business to the latter in exchange for favors benefiting the lawmen, all of whom are charged with felonies under an indictment unsealed Thursday.
Former Deputy Kevin Carpenter, sheriff's Sgt. Robert Christolon and Lt. Samuel Flores were indicted alongside Temecula-based TJ's Towing proprietor Cody Close for the alleged roughly yearlong scam that was uncovered when another tow truck operator complained, according to the District Attorney's Office.
The charges against the defendants include bribery, conspiracy and unlawful use of a government computer network. Each man is free on bond, and all are slated to be arraigned on March 27 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Carpenter was relieved of duty last year, while Christolon and Flores are on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the case, according to the D.A.'s office.
Between early 2018 and early 2019, while Flores and Christolon were supervising the traffic division of the sheriff's Temecula station, they allegedly began coordinating tows to ensure that Close was receiving more business. Carpenter was a bailiff in Banning at the time but worked extra hours on the traffic beat in Temecula, according to the indictment. He was an alleged active participant in arranging tows for TJ's.
"According to evidence and testimony ... Close provided Flores, Christolon and Carpenter with free or steeply discounted vehicles, free meals, the use of his facility for vehicle repairs, and a free stay for Flores in a beachfront home, in exchange for extra business and preferential treatment," a D.A.'s office statement alleges.
Prosecutors allege that the defendants conspired to put TJ's Towing ahead of other tow companies under contract with Temecula -- a practice known as "out of rotation," when one operator is repeatedly given business instead of waiting to be rotated to the front of the line after others have had an opportunity to receive tow calls.
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"Carpenter falsely logged tows as traffic citations in the sheriff's department's computer network in attempts to avoid detection," the D.A.'s statement alleges.
The defendants further endorsed Close's hazardous waste cleanup business, promoting it to co-workers, even though the operation was not utilized by the department, prosecutors allege.
Flores and Christolon allegedly deflected criticism from Carpenter when fellow traffic division deputies noticed irregularities.
When another tow operator took complaints about the "out of rotation" practices to the city, an investigation was initiated, culminating in the case being taken to the grand jury.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story identified the wrong sheriff's department. This story has been updated.