One more look into the tow-and-scam case

Commissioner Gregory Saldivar, who by most accounts has been a
reliable and hard-working member of the criminal justice system for
the past 16 years, should nevertheless be investigated for his role
in the tow-and-sue scam case that involved a San Benito County
family who collectively filed more than 2,000 small claims
lawsuits.
Commissioner Gregory Saldivar, who by most accounts has been a reliable and hard-working member of the criminal justice system for the past 16 years, should nevertheless be investigated for his role in the tow-and-sue scam case that involved a San Benito County family who collectively filed more than 2,000 small claims lawsuits.

The family, which includes Vincent Cardinalli, 67, and his son Paul Greer, 33, brought an avalanche of lawsuits in Santa Clara and San Benito counties against unwitting vehicle owners for towing, storage and lien sale fees on vehicles they never owned, or had sold years before the cars were towed. When defendants tried to fight back, father and son often zeroed in on technicalities and advanced frivolous arguments, according to Greg Adler, an attorney for Copart – an auto auction company that was a target of such lawsuits.

Though Cardinalli and Greer hadn’t towed a car in years – they operated separate companies – they were awarded $232,000 in judgments over an 18-month period ending in August 2006. Those awards represented 111 cases – less than a quarter of the cases they filed in the Santa Clara County. And when defendants didn’t pay, the duo marshaled the power and blessings of the small claims court to raid bank accounts, garnish paychecks and arrest elusive defendants.

After fending off three of Greer’s lawsuits, Adler dedicated countless hours of his own time sifting through court documents and uncovered several patterns in the family’s court records. Saldivar’s tendency to rule in favor of Cardinalli and Greer, as well as Cardinalli and Greer’s preference to have cases heard by Saldivar, set off “red flags,” Adler said.

And those “red flags” should be heeded by new District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who should investigate or call for a grand jury investigation.

In all but one of the files Adler reviewed, cases that were originally heard by Saldivar but later appealed to the Superior Court by the small claims defendants were overturned by the higher court judges, he said. Other judges and commissioners often ruled in favor of the people that Greer and Cardinalli sued. And it is those judges who appoint court commissioners, according to Carl Schulhof, public information officer for the courthouse.

“Saldivar is a percipient witness to crimes that occurred in his courtroom, in his presence,” Deputy District Attorney Dale Lohman wrote at one point. “Many of the charged crimes occurred in his courtroom, on his watch. His courtroom provided the backdrop and the opportunity for the defendants’ criminal scheme.”

That forces us to wonder. How many times must you hear the same explanation from scores of people claiming they never owned the vehicle or sold it years prior, before thinking something might be amiss? It’s time for Rosen to dig deeper into what role Saldivar played, so the question of whether justice has been served with the recent criminal sentencings of Cardinalli and Greer can truly be answered.

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