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Marines win settlement against towing company

A welcome sign stands outside the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. (U.S. Marine Corps/TNS)
December 29, 2023

Under a settlement secured this week by the U.S. Justice Department, the owner of a towing company near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be required to repay U.S. Marines for allegedly improperly selling their vehicles.

The Justice Department claimed that the owner even sold one of the Marine’s vehicles while they were deployed.

A press release published Tuesday by the Justice Department explained that the department had successfully “secured a settlement” against Billy Joe Goines, the owner of Goines Towing & Recovery, which is located near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

According to the Justice Department, Tuesday’s settlement was reached to “resolve allegations” that Goines towed and sold vehicles of U.S. service members without adequately informing the court that the vehicles were owned by U.S. Marines. The Justice Department claimed that Goines violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

Under the settlement agreement Goines reached with the Justice Department, Goines will be required to pay $66,805 in restitution, including payments to 7 Marines for improperly selling their vehicles. The settlement is currently waiting for approval by the U.S. District Court for North Carolina’s Eastern District.

“Service members sacrifice a lot — and, in many cases, everything,” Michael Easley Jr., U.S. attorney for North Carolina’s Eastern District, said. “Debt collectors and towing companies shouldn’t be allowed to take and sell their property behind their backs. The Justice Department will vigorously enforce service members’ rights under the SCRA. Try to illegally take property from a Marine and find out.”

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In Tuesday’s press release, the Justice Department explained that the SCRA requires towing companies to file accurate affidavits that inform the courts if a vehicle’s owner is enlisted in the military prior to obtaining court authorization to sell a vehicle that has been towed. If a towed vehicle is owned by a military member, the courts are not allowed to approve the sale of the vehicle until an attorney is appointed to represent the military member.

“The complaint here alleges that Goines either failed to file or filed inaccurate military affidavits with the court,” the Justice Department noted. “Goines also allegedly filed military affidavits stating that he was unable to tell whether a vehicle owner was in the military even in instances where the vehicle at issue was towed from a military installation or had military decals, and instances when the vehicle owner or owner’s spouse had informed Goines of the owner’s active military service.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division explained that by failing to comply with federal law, Goines “deprived” U.S. military members of the opportunity they should have been given in order to reclaim their vehicles.

Clarke added, “This consent order demonstrates the Justice Department’s ongoing commitment to protecting the rights of servicemembers and their families.”