School Closings

Millions of dollars made from car sales at the Memphis Impound Lot

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If you lose your car at the Memphis Impound Lot and can't afford to pay to get it out, someone else is making big money on what you leave behind.

Plenty of cars were for sale at auction day Tuesday at the Memphis Impound Lot. They are cars people have left behind, and some people are just unable to afford the fee to get them out.

"Here we are taking their cars and on Tuesdays we are auctioning them off and we tell them come back on Tuesday and we tell them maybe you will be fortunate enough to be the winning bidder on your car," said Robert Bain, a former supervisor at the impound lot.

He saw people lose their cars.

"They were taken from people simply because they can't afford the $125 for the tow, the $10 administrative fee, and the accumulated $30 a day of storage. That's what's wrong with the process. There is no sense of the public. We are supposed to be serving the public and it's a far cry from (that)," he said.

It left him so dismayed he began eliminating fees for some victims, like those who had been hospitalized and couldn't get their cars.

"And then when they sometimes can't afford to get their vehicle out, the city takes ownership of the vehicle and sells it," Bain said.

WREG requested the numbers showing just how much Impound Lot car auctions brought in:

  • In 2015,  2,597 vehicles were sold at the lot, bringing in $2.1 million.
  • In 2016, almost 3,000 cars sold for $1.8 million.
  • In 2017,  3,788 vehicles sold for $2.4 million.
  • As of the end of September 2018,  2,410 vehicles brought in $1.7 million.

In the last four years, that's more than $8 million made from the impound lot auction.

Venture Auctions declined to speak with us about the sale it has conducted for the city for years, but says it gets 10 percent off the top from each car sale.

After that, 100 percent of the proceeds go back to the City of Memphis.

"That goes into the General Operating Fund. We use it to operate city government," Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.

But the impound lot also has the city in a legal fight.

Marcus Belton is still involved in a $6 million lawsuit against the city for severing his minority Big Foot Tire contract to repair city vehicle tires at the impound lot.

Belton says he lost his minority contract to two firms run by white owners and claims discrimination. The city say his contract ended.

But sources say contracts are being pushed by impound lot managers to certain firms. It wouldn't be the first time.

The city's contract with Around Town Tire made headlines years ago when the costs ballooned from a few hundred thousand to more than a million. It led to firings and investigations.

Bain says problems have resurfaced and the impound lot needs a full audit — something he has asked the city to do.

"In my two and a half years. I have not heard those complaints," Strickland said. "We certainly know about the very unfortunate incident that happened, that single incident. Outside of that, I have not heard those complaints. I am certainly open to hearing those."

That single incident was a body left unnoticed in a vehicle at the impound lot for 49 days last December. The police director says the incident is still being investigated.

"We should hope to have that wrapped up before the year is out," Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings said.

But one impound lot worker who asked us to hide his identity says he hasn't seen anything happen at the lot since the body was found.

"There is no investigation. If there was an investigation questions would have come our way. Nothing has happened. This talk of investigation is just talk," the employee said.

There has a been a long history of problems at the impound lot even before the current mayor and police director took office.

Bain, who is fighting his firing, says an audit will clear everything up. But so far, no one has indicated that is going to happen.