Kansas Highway Patrol Seizes 1959 Corvette from ‘Innocent Owner’ and Now Wants to Destroy It


Kansas Highway Patrol Seizes 1959 Corvette from 'Innocent Owner' and Now Wants to Destroy It

1959 File Photo via CorvetteImages.com

When Richard Martinez bought a 1959 Corvette for $50,000 from an Indiana dealer in 2016, the Kansas man didn’t realize he still wouldn’t have possession of the vehicle five years later.

After buying the car, Martinez took it to a Kansas Highway Patrol station for a mandated inspection, but the KHP seized his classic Corvette because of vehicle identification number issues, including an issue with a VIN plate located in a non-public, “secret” location visible to the KHP only by looking under the car with a mirror.

The government concedes Martinez did nothing wrong, that he “was not aware of the [VIN] issues and defects,” and that there is “no question” he is “an innocent owner.” Instead of returning the car, though, the government has spent years trying to destroy it.

That’s where the Kansas Justice Institute, a non-profit, public-interest litigation firm committed to defending against government overreach and abuse, stepped in.

A trial in the case Kansas Highway Patrol v. 1959 Chevrolet Corvette started before a court instead of a jury on July 21, and KHI subsequently filed an amicus brief on Aug. 18 in the District Court of Johnson County, urging the court to protect the private property rights of a vehicle owner, someone recognized by the KHP as innocent.

“Asset forfeiture is when the government takes a person’s property without a criminal conviction. In some cases, the person is never even charged with a crime, as was the case with Mr. Martinez,” KJI Litigation Director Sam MacRoberts said.

MacRoberts says asset forfeiture is bad enough, “but it’s especially bad in this case because the government admits Mr. Martinez did nothing wrong.”

Even though the KHP acknowledges Martinez’s innocence, they still argue that the Corvette must be taken from him as “contraband,” based on Kansas laws.

“When the government knows someone is innocent, they shouldn’t use their power and resources to take their property. Kansas’ forfeiture laws are to blame. The United States and Kansas Constitutions do not permit the government to acknowledge a person’s innocence, on the one hand, and then with the other, declare the innocent person’s property ‘contraband’ and take it,” MacRoberts said.

The Kansas laws to which he refers say that every motor vehicle with a VIN that has been destroyed, removed, abused, or defaced is automatically deemed contraband and subject to forfeiture.

“The government should not get to destroy an innocent person’s car,” MacRoberts said.

In the brief, the KJI pointed out a warning to Congress from former U.S. Representative Henry Hyde that “our civil asset-forfeiture laws are being used in terribly unjust ways,” that Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio “recognized that civil asset forfeiture laws, at their core, deny basic due process, and the American people have reason to be offended and concerned by the abuse,” and that in recent decades civil forfeiture has “become widespread and highly profitable,” with the practice becoming “a veritable addiction for federal, state, and local officials across the country.”

Kansas Justice Institute via WIBW.com

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  1. Fight it in court, for sure. But there has to be some creative way around this, too. What constitutes “destroying” a vehicle? Maybe they could “destroy” some insignificant parts, replace them, and/or disassemble-reassemble the vehicle and call it a kit car that wouldn’t need a serial number? Just shootin’ from the hip here.
    Also, what about the dealer that the guy bought it from? Might they be on the hook for some damages via civil litigation?
    And finally, how about changing/amending the law that allows this in the first place? Let those legislators who brag about how they’re for individual rights & freedoms/ the little guy actually do something about situations like this.

  2. Today “Secret numbers” really don’t mean squat as replacement frames are common; especially from another Corvette that was parted out. The owner should contact the the NICB and have the Agency determine if the VIN displayed matches the title. Additionally, the NICB can determine if the VIN/Title belong to the vehicle the owner purchased. If the NICB affirms everything as right and true then the Keystone (Kansas) Highway Patrol needs to drop their case. Good Luck!!!!!!

  3. The article fails to discuss whether the “hidden” VIN matches any stolen cars or a where an insurance company paid the stolen claim and is subrogated.

  4. Yes,in my humble opinion, Mr. Martinez and his counsel should look to the selling dealer in Indiana for 1. Just how they came to be in possession of the Corvette in Question, 2.Did they notice anything “ funny” with title and vin number BEFORE selling it to Mr. Martinez 3. Is there more than 1 vin number 4. If Indiana dealer is no long in business, contact the Indiana County DMV for title and registration #s for the Corvette 5. Present proof positive Mr. Martinez, purchased said Corvette in good faith, and that any and all legal issues relating to the Transfer of said vehicle from said Indiana seller to Mr. Martinez are and we’re done in a proper and legal manner, with NO wrongful wrongful intent by Mr. Martinez whatsoever.

  5. I had a similar VIN# situation with my 71 Riviera.
    The VIN tag on the dash had deteriorated due to hold sealant around the windshield.
    California Highway Patrol inspector put the car on a lift and checked the other two VIN tags on body and frame.
    Officer told me 95% of old school cars have at least 3 tags.
    As long as two of three matched and the owners didn’t try to obviously alter the VIN tag in question.
    Then everything thing was fine, case closed.
    KHP sounds like they see a good chunk of revenue in that be that vette.
    They won’t destroy it.
    They will auction it.

    My 2 cents anyways. Take it for what it’s worth.

  6. I worked at a Corvette rebuilding shop we would only buy wrecked Corvettes. We would take two frames make them one use the front end of the body off one car, the rear off another use the engine and transmission out of one of the cars we where working on and so forth. Some cars where built out of four or five other cars. We would rebuild everything some of the cars left looking brand new. Others would have a few Interior defects. It all depends on what we had at the time. They all had clean titles and the VIN goes with the one on the shell not the engine or frame or anything else

  7. Fine example when legislation totally ignores common sense. Who in their right mind would want to destroy this car, regardless of some stupidarse reason?

    Reminds me of the case where a family of a man who was killed using a phone in a roadside phone booth by a drunk driver sued Bell South for putting the booth where they did and won a bunch of money. Where’s the logic in that?

  8. the police steal more property every year than the criminals do, look it up. this is your law and order leadership at work, you know the ones that claim YOUR FREEDOM is the most important thing to them! police department profit huge from stealing property and selling it, it’s criminal. the constitution is a joke not worth the paper it’s written on, LMFAO

  9. Gross negligence on the part of the law enforcement folks! Common problem with the Corvette C-1 series VIN plate place on the steering column tube! Big mistake by GM to have done that! But the frame has two stamping on it. Difficult to see with the body on the car but it can be done. These enforcement folks are idiots.

  10. 59 Corvette does not have the VIN on the steering column.
    That was done from 1960 thru 62.

  11. Apply for a “quiet” title, had the same thing happen years ago. 1959 VIN was put on with phillips screws. Should not have any problem, if no other claims on vehicle.

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