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Friday, May 15, 2009

CA Tow Owner Will Be Tried On Theft, Fraud Counts

Here's the Merced Sun-Star story:
By VICTOR A. PATTONvpatton@mercedsun-star.com
A
judge decided Thursday that ample evidence exists to try RTS Towing owner Randal Loy Wright on charges of auto theft and insurance fraud. Wright, 59, is accused of unlawfully taking a Mercedes Benz G55 AMG from a Fresno dealership in December. He's also accused of overbilling the American Automobile Association (AAA) after the Mercedes was towed from Merced County to Fresno.Dressed in a black collared shirt and slacks, Wright appeared calm and relaxed during the preliminary hearing in Merced County Superior Court. He remains free on bail and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors believe Wright had been leasing the car since April 2007, but was behind on his payments and had to return it. Merced County sheriff's detectives believe Wright was delinquent about $10,000 in payments.
Deputy District Attorney Steve Slocum said although the car was towed from Merced County to Mercedes Benz of Fresno on Nov. 5, the car later went missing from the dealership. In December, Wright had taken the car to Sound Encounters in Merced to have its LoJack security system disabled.
In April, police found the missing Mercedes at a vacant house in San Felipe, Mexico. That's also the residence overseen by Wright's girlfriend, a 45-year-old Canadian national named Teresa Hutt. The Mercedes is now in the hands of Merced County sheriff's detectives and is being held as
evidence.
Detective Chuck Hale testified during the hearing that investigators tape recorded a phone call that Wright placed to Hutt from the Merced County Jail in March. During the phone call, Wright told Hutt that "black needs to be taken care of," referring to the Mercedes.
In response, Hutt said something along the lines that "it's already been taken car of," Hale
said.Detectives also believe Wright inflated the mileage on a AAA claim slip, after the Mercedes was towed from the RTS Towing yard to the dealership in Fresno.
Tom Pfeiff, Wright's attorney, said his client denies any wrongdoing. "In our view, it's nothing more than a guy who's late on his lease payments," Pfeiff said.Presiding Judge John Kirihara decided not to try Wright on an embezzlement charge, because the charge is similar to the auto theft charge he's already facing in the same case.
In a separate case, Wright is accused of contacting the California Highway Patrol and making a fake stolen auto report. Sheriff's investigators still haven't found Wright's wife, Karen Rene Wright, who went missing after making a trip to San Felipe on Feb. 9. The couple had shared vacation homes in San Felipe.The investigation into missing RTS tow truck drivers Steven Lincoln Lombard, 33, and Paul Armstrong, 28, also remains open.
Lombard and Armstrong, who both worked for Wright's company, vanished on Dec. 17, 1993.
Wright has not been named a suspect in the disappearance of either his wife or the RTS Towing drivers.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or
vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.

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