"We don't drive them because, technically, they're not ours. That has been the way we've operated."
The vehicles, he explained, are either used in undercover narcotics work or sit in an impoundment lot until they are sold at auction. The policy differs
from that of the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office. Until early this month, the Montgomery County office allowed six district attorneys to use confiscated cars as personal vehicles.
That practice ended four days after The Inquirer reported that some local and national criminal-justice experts had said that Montgomery County's practice was contrary to the policies of other district attorneys in the state and country.
While some flashy cars are seized during drug raids in Delaware County, the vehicles on the lots tend to "run to the mundane," Mittleman said.
So, too, do the cars towed to impounding areas after accidents or fires, and those that are just plain abandoned.
"Mainly what you're going to see is junk," Joseph Sheeran, owner of Herby's Arco Service, said of the abandoned cars. The Drexel Hill company provides towing service for Upper Darby Township.
The District Attorney's Office here says that since January, it has seized eight vehicles used by drug suspects. Some of the deals carried out with the vehicles involved big "scores."
According to Mittleman, such was the case with the '86 Kawasaki:
It was 7:10 p.m. on June 17, and detectives from the County Investigation Division were waiting in the parking lot of the Red Roof Inn in Tinicum Township after they received a tip that David Bayley, 24, of Pennsauken, N.J.,would be there with a quarter-pound of cocaine.
He arrived, riding his Kawasaki, and was arrested. Not only was Bayley carrying a quarter-pound of cocaine, but he had also stored an additional ounce of the drug under a motorcycle helmet attached to the bike.
Bayley is being held in Delaware County Prison pending an arraignment in Delaware County Court at a date to be set.
Even if a suspect is acquitted, the vehicle can still be confiscated if the District Attorney's Office can prove that "it's more likely than not that the vehicle was used in violation of the drug act," Mittleman said.
This was not always the procedure, however. Before June 30, state law said that the vehicle could be confiscated only if it were used expressly "to facilitate the delivery of a controlled substance," he said.
The District Attorney's Office sells the cars it seizes, then uses the
funds for drug enforcement activity. If a municipal police department seizes a vehicle during a drug arrest, some of the proceeds from the sale may go to the department - as long as the local police can prove that the funds will be used specifically to enforce the drug act, Mittleman said.
Sometimes, as was the case with one of the Cadillacs, detectives use the cars in their undercover narcotics work, he said.
At Herby's Arco, the outcome of towing cars is less fruitful. Most of the 40 or 50 cars the company tows in each month end up staying on the lot for six to eight weeks before they are sold to a junkyard.
During those weeks, Sheeran goes through a ritual of exchanging paper work with the state Department of Transportation to obtain a certificate of salvage that allows him to sell the cars for junk. In total, he'll get $10 from the township for the towing and $15 to $35 from the junkyard dealer for each unclaimed car.
William Byrne, who has worked at Herby's for 30 years, said that in his business, "if you break even, you're lucky."
Only when the car is properly insured does Herby's collect the $10-per-day storage fee, he said. "We've been doing this a long time, and we're not making a killing here."