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Whoops! Sheriff's Department Official Didn't Know He Bought Stolen Audi

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An L.A. County Sheriff's Department official had been driving around in a stolen luxury car for over a year, and says he had no idea it was stolen until now.Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans, a 31-year veteran of the department, is the third-highest ranking official with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. He also bought a 2012 Audi A4 for mere $3,000 from Vernola's Towing in Norwalk, the L.A. Times reports. Vernola's contracts with the Sheriff's Department, and acquired the car after deputies arrested a suspected gang member who was driving it through a DUI checkpoint. The car was then impounded at Vernola Towing. No one showed up to claim it and attempts to sell it in lien sales were unsuccessful, so the towing company's owner, Lisa Vernola, registered it to herself. However, she soon became disappointed with how much work it needed, and said she just wanted the car off her lot, saying, "It wasn't worth crap."

The Vernola family and Rothans are long-time friends, and Rothans spotted the car when he was having lunch with Lisa Vernola's father. Jumping at the chance to be rid of it, Vernola offered to sell it to him for $3,000. Rothans accepted and drove it around for a year with what he claims is a total lack of knowledge as to the car's history.

It wasn't until the DMV requested a VIN verification that it was discovered that the car's real VIN number was switched the VIN with a fake one, and that this particular car had been stolen from a dealership. Now officers are investigating the car theft, and the car has been taken back to the dealership.

Buying seized property is against department rules, even if you use a third party to do so. In Rothans' case, he claims he didn't realize he was buying seized property; rather, he thought he was just buying a car from his friend.

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"I don't think that buying a car from a private party is unethical," he said. "I didn't think I was manipulating the policy or that a car was changing hands so I could get a special deal."

Steve Rothlein, a retired Miami-Dade officer who now writes about police ethics, said that law enforcement should be wary of good deals.

"Could this be looked at as, 'I'm receiving something just because of my position that an average person wouldn't get?'" Rothlein said. "In a professional sense, he should have known better."

Rothans, in the interest of transparency, has passed up his right to have the internal investigation kept private. Inspector General Max Huntsman will be looking into the matter, though Huntsman said he will not publicize the results of his investigation. Rothans is hoping he gets reimbursed by his insurance company.

"Cops can be victims of crime, too," he said.