Indiana cop charged with bribery, theft in salvage car inspection scheme

by Kim Boateng Posted on March 27th, 2019

Louis Vasquez, a Lake County, Indiana, sheriff’s deputy has been arrested on bribery and theft charges for allegedly falsifying vehicle inspection reports.

Deputy Louis Vasquez, 38, is charged with one felony count each of bribery, official misconduct, theft and perjury, according to a criminal complaint filed in the Superior Court of Lake County.

Vasquez, a 14-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, is accused of illegally accepting cash in exchange for completing at least 42 salvage vehicle inspection forms for Fast Import Cars LLC of Knox, Indiana, Indiana State Police said in a statement.

Salvage can only be performed by detectives with the sheriff’s Auto Theft Unit, according to court documents. The person requesting the auto inspections must pay the county a $60 fee and show the receipt to a qualified detective before the inspection is performed.

In order to qualify as a salvage vehicle, a car must have been built in the last seven model years and damaged more than it was worth. As part of the process of completing an Affidavit of Restoration for a Salvage Motor Vehicle form, a police officer is supposed to certify that they have personally examined the vehicle, major component parts, and ownership documents.

Vasquez allegedly performed “numerous” false or fraudulent salvage vehicle identification number inspections for personal financial gain, according to investigators.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Department has an auto division that conducts salvage vehicle inspections, which are required for owners who want a salvage title from the bureau of motor vehicles. Owners pay the department a $60 inspection fee, which is then deposited into a fund used for “general law enforcement purposes.”

Road officers in the sheriff’s department are not allowed to perform the inspections, only specially trained staff of the auto detail, Martinez said. Vasquez was conducting bogus salvage inspections and keeping the money he charged vehicle owners, according to investigators.

Vasquez, who is not qualified to perform the inspections, charged the business $20 for each vehicle check, according to court records. The 42 forms signed by Vasquez were completed between Sept. 25, 2017, and Nov. 24, 2018.

Vasquez turned himself in to the sheriff’s department on Tuesday, state police said.

Disciplinary charges against Vasquez were filed this January, seeking his termination in connection with the investigation, the sheriff’s department said in a statement. He has been placed on administrative leave pending a hearing before the Lake County Sheriff’s Merit Board this summer.

The owners of Fast Import Cars, Pavel Rohatinovici and Andrii Lakymenko, were also arrested and charged with one felony count each of perjury, state police said.

Statement from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department

Earlier today criminal felony charges were filed against Lake County Police Officer Louis Vasquez following an investigation by the Indiana State Police that was requested by Sheriff Oscar Martinez. Officer Vasquez, who was placed on administrative leave by Sheriff Martinez pending the results of the investigation, has been charged with four felonies allegedly related to the theft of money he was paid for conducting Salvage Vehicle Inspections.

Prior to the filing of these criminal charges, Sheriff Martinez was notified by the Indiana State Police on January 17, 2019, that their investigation revealed Officer Vasquez had allegedly engaged in a series of illicit transactions, from September of 2017 through November of 2018, where he had performed numerous false or fraudulent Salvage Vehicle Identification Number (“VIN”) inspections for his own personal financial gain. Following this report, On January 19, 2019, Sheriff Martinez filed formal disciplinary charges against Officer Vasquez, with the Lake County Sheriff’s Merit Board seeking his termination as a county police officer. The disciplinary charges pending before the Merit Board are expected to be scheduled for a final hearing sometime this summer.

Concerning the recently filed criminal charges, Sheriff Martinez stated:

“I’m very proud of the hard work and dedication of our county officers and the effort they put in, 24 hours a day, to protect our citizens, taxpayers and children from the criminals prey on members of our community.”

“I fully support the work being done every day by our county police officers and the members of our local law enforcement community – but – if an officer crosses the line, fails to abide by the law and their oath to protect and serve, they must be held accountable – as nobody, including police officers, are above the law.”

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