Puzzled man finds Camden's mayor in his car The Pennsauken resident wonders how a Lincoln he reported stolen wound up as Gwendolyn A. Faison's limousine.

Posted: July 26, 2003

CAMDEN — Robert Vinis reported his car stolen more than six months ago.

Now, after locating his prized 1998 Lincoln Town Car, the retired Pennsauken man says he feels as if it is being taken from him again.

His car is now the mayormobile.

Mayor Gwendolyn A. Faison this month began using Vinis' Lincoln for city business and has no plans to give it up.

After numerous efforts by police to reach Vinis with news of the car's recovery failed, the vehicle was deemed abandoned, claimed by the city, and put into service, city and police officials said.

Christine Jones Tucker, Camden's interim business administrator, said yesterday that the city had received no requests from the owner, his attorney or the lien holder to return the vehicle.

"We have no plan to change the use of the car," she said. "We have title to it."

Vinis, 70, of the 3700 block of Madison Avenue in Pennsauken, said he never received notice that the car had been recovered. He also said he had phoned the police several times to find out whether the car had been found.

"When I found out the mayor had it, I was really surprised, a whole lot surprised," he said yesterday. "It seems like they can find out when they got a bill but not for something like this?"

Acting Police Chief Edwin Figueroa said the Lincoln was stolen from Westfield Avenue in Camden on Jan. 9 and recovered the same day.

Figueroa said Vinis was sent a registered letter - postmarked Jan. 10 - notifying him of the recovery. But the letter was returned.

He said police also notified the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which alerted Vinis' insurance company on Jan. 13.

"We did everything we could," Figueroa said yesterday. "Every effort was made to contact the owner. We made all the notifications and even called his house."

But Vinis said neither he nor his insurance company got word.

State Farm Insurance declared the car a loss by April and paid him about $14,000, said Vinis, who later bought a 2000 Lincoln Continental.

His Lincoln Town Car, meanwhile, sat in an impoundment lot.

"We can't keep a lot full of vehicles," Figueroa said. "We're not in the business of fixing cars, and we don't often take cars from the impoundment lot" for city use.

But this month, Faison turned over her 2001 white Chevrolet Impala to the Police Department and took delivery of the Lincoln. The car, with about 75,000 miles on the odometer, had been upgraded with a new paint job and new tires.

Tucker said Faison thought at the time that the car had been confiscated as a result of illegal activity. I checked the evidence of the title because the mayor was involved and I was concerned," she said.

Faison did not return phone calls yesterday.

Vinis said he first heard about the recovery of the Lincoln from a Courier-Post reporter who gave him the vehicle identification number of the mayor's car. He said he looked at the number on his old registration card and found that the two matched.

"My wife and I couldn't believe it," said Vinis, a retired dispatcher and baggage handler for Trailways. "There's definitely something wrong here.

"I'm trying to figure out what happened. I liked that car . . . better than the one I have now."

Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

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