Camden police faulted in mix-up over Faison's car The county prosecutor found that they made errors, but broke no laws, in the handling of a stolen Lincoln.

Posted: September 09, 2003

Camden police made several procedural missteps when they converted a recovered stolen 1998 Lincoln Town Car and used it to chauffeur Mayor Gwendolyn Faison, a report released yesterday said.

"Mistakes were made," Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi, whose office conducted the investigation, said in a statement. "While proper procedures were not followed . . . our review indicates there were was no criminal intent or conduct on the part of the city or any of its officials."

Faison, 77, said the problems would be corrected but that the matter had been blown out of proportion in an attempt "to embarrass this mayor and this administration."

"I haven't done anything illegal," she said.

After claiming the car from an impound lot in January, the city repainted it, tinted the windows, equipped it with new tires, and presented it to the mayor at a cost of $3,000.

Faison replaced her 2001 Chevrolet Impala with the Town Car - dubbed the "mayor mobile" - as her official, chauffeur-driven transportation to municipal appointments.

"It was a nice car, and I wanted to save the city money," she said yesterday, pointing out that previous mayors had been given new cars. The police are now using the Impala.

City officials were chagrined to learn that a Pennsauken man, Robert Vinis, had reported the Lincoln stolen on Westfield Avenue in Camden on Jan. 9.

Despite weeks of criticism and ridicule, Faison initially refused to relinquish the car to Vinis, 70, who insisted that it be returned.

But after preliminary findings by the county that procedures had not been followed, she relented last month and returned the car to the city for storage until the matter was resolved.

Sarubbi, who oversees the Camden Police Department, said he had ordered city officials to adopt proper procedures for taking title to abandoned vehicles. Police must also take an inventory of their fleet to make sure no other vehicles were improperly seized.

Sarubbi said police had erred by processing the car as a forfeiture instead of as an abandoned vehicle.

Under state law, a government agency may acquire an abandoned vehicle after it has been put up for auction and no bids are received, but that did not happen in this case, Sarubbi said. An auction was scheduled for April 2, but the vehicle was removed from the sale list and provided to the mayor, the prosecutor said.

Also, Vinis was never sent a notice that the vehicle was listed for auction, as state law requires, Sarubbi said. He should have been given time to reclaim his car, the prosecutor said.

Police recovered the car the day Vinis reported it stolen. They tried to notify him, they said, but Vinis said he had never received their notices.

Two notices sent to Vinis were returned as unclaimed, Sarubbi said.

The Lincoln will remain in storage while the city and State Farm Insurance Co., Vinis' insurer, continue negotiations, Sarubbi said. After declaring the car a loss, State Farm paid Vinis about $15,000 in February; Vinis later bought a 2000 Lincoln Continental.

Because the car was never auctioned, State Farm plans to pursue a claim to the car, Sarubbi said.

He said mistakes also had been made when the city acquired two other abandoned vehicles used by the Police Department. He ordered the city to take the 2001 Dodge Neon and 1992 Pontiac Grand Prix off the street and notify the owners about a pending auction.

Contact staff writer Melanie Burney at 856-779-3876 or mburney@phillynews.com.

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