Police officers in a Central California town took part in a scheme in which cars belonging to poor Hispanic people were impounded, towed and later sold or given away for free to some officers when the car owners couldn't pay the fees, authorities said Tuesday.
Four officers — including the recently retired police chief and the acting chief — have been arrested, and two other officers were also arrested Tuesday on unrelated charges, Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo said.
"There has been a significant breakdown in the internal leadership of the King City Police Department," Flippo said. "It also appears to me that some officers have dishonoured their badge."
The six officers account for more than a third of the 17-member force in King City, an agricultural town of 13,000 people about 150 miles (240 kilometres) southeast of San Francisco.
Early Tuesday morning, teams from the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, the FBI, the Salinas Police Department and the county district attorney's bureau of investigation arrested the officers after a months-long investigation, which began as a response to complaints of corruption and criminal acts within the department, Flippo said.
Authorities said that, in some cases, officers simply kept the cars for their own use.
The four officers tied to the alleged car theft scheme have each been charged with bribery, accepting a bribe or embezzlement.
The operator of a towing company who is also the brother of the acting chief has also been arrested in the case.