City employee arrested in chop shop conspiracy

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A City of Portland employee who works in the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) abandoned auto section was arrested Wednesday on charges related to complex auto-theft investigation.

Barbara Lorraine Peterson, 53, is charged with seven counts of official misconduct, four counts of conspiracy to commit unlawful use of a motor vehicle and three counts of unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

Peterson accepted cash bribes to provide information to an unregistered tow truck driver about abandoned vehicles in the city, Portland Police said in a statement.

West Coast Car Crushing, 9101 N. Columbia Boulevard in Portland, April 8, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
West Coast Car Crushing, 9101 N. Columbia Boulevard in Portland, April 8, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

The driver of the tow truck would then steal those vehicles by towing them to the West Coast Car Crushing facility, where they would be crushed and sold as scrap metal.

Towing critic Sean Cruz said he believes Peterson’s arrest is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I’m not surprised at all. Kickbacks are part of the system. They’re part of the towing system,” said Cruz.

Police said they don’t believe anyone else at the City of Portland knew about Peterson’s actions.

“At this point, detectives don’t believe any other employees were involved in this case. Detectives don’t believe the city or any employees had knowledge of this person’s activities,” said Portland Police Sgt. Pete Simpson.

Peterson, who has worked for PBOT for 20 years, was posted bail Wednesday night and remains a PBOT employee for now.

“Employees are not paid when they are in custody, but when they are not in police custody, they are still employed pending the investigation,” said Dylan Rivera with PBOT.

Previous arrests 

Earlier this month, SWAT units raided a West Coast Car Crushing in North Portland, which officials said was also acting as a chop shop.

Several people were taken into custody in the raid April 8.

Another warrant, served at 516 W. Fourth Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, Wash, led to the discovery of a meth lab. 

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office discovered a meth lab while executing a search warrant in connection with a large-scale auto theft case, April 9, 2014. (Clark County Sheriff’s Office)
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office discovered a meth lab while executing a search warrant in connection with a large-scale auto theft case, April 9, 2014. (Clark County Sheriff’s Office)

Multiple agencies worked on the investigation that led to the search warrants at:

  • A1 Light Truck and Van Parts, 9609 N. Columbia Boulevard
  • West Coast Car Crushing, 9101 N. Columbia Boulevard
  • 330 N. Lotus Isle Drive
  • 514 NW 40th Street, Vancouver
  • 516 W. Fourth Plain Boulevard, Vancouver

The full investigation may last several weeks. Once complete, the case will be handed over to the district attorney’s office.

The agencies working together on this case include the PPB, the Oregon Department of Justice, the Oregon State Police, the Oregon DEQ, the Oregon DMV, the Oregon DHS, the IRS, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the sheriff’s offices in Clark and Clackamas counties and the Multnomah County District Attorney.

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