N.Y. businessman ordered to document ownership of old Army jeeps
By BRIAN KELLY AND GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: November 27, 2013
ADAMS, N.Y.— A state Supreme Court judge has ordered a retired salvage yard operator to document for the state attorney general’s office how he acquired several military vehicles, including 10 Army jeeps.
Judge James P. McClusky has ordered Gordon O. Dobbin, principal of Dobbin’s Auto Parts Inc., 10545 Route 11, to comply with a subpoena issued by the attorney general and directed Mr. Dobbin to appear at the attorney general’s Watertown office to explain, under oath, how he came to possess the vehicles.
The court decision comes about six months after the 10 Army AMC General and M151 jeeps were auctioned off at Mr. Dobbin’s lot May 4. All of the jeeps were sold at auction at prices ranging from $4,000 to $7,000 each. It was disclosed to customers during the auction that none of the vehicles had a title and they would be sold only with bills of sale. Winning bidders were directed to deposit 10 percent of the price until the sale was approved formally.
The vehicles first were reviewed by the Fort Drum Criminal Investigation Command a day before the auction, despite being listed for months previously. The release of a collection of military tagalongs and cargo trucks also was stalled during the review. Among the reasons for the delayed release was concern from the office that the jeeps had a history of rollovers that would make them dangerous for driving. During the May auction, potential bidders also were told that the vehicles were not for highway use. Some of the winning bidders said at the time of the auction they would use the jeeps for display or low-risk parade purposes.
A number previously used to contact Mr. Dobbin was not in service Monday afternoon. However, Mr. Dobbin’s attorney, David A. Renzi, Watertown, argued in court documents that Mr. Dobbin has owned the vehicles for upward of 30 years and the attorney general “has provided no evidence” that Mr. Dobbin stole anything or possessed stolen property.
The attorney general contends that all but one of the vehicles have had their vehicle identification numbers removed. The vehicle that still has its number matches a 1979 M151 vehicle that was “lost” from an Army National Guard base at the Watervliet Arsenal in Albany County in 1992, according to the attorney general.
The attorney general maintains that the M151 vehicles “are a unique class of military vehicle,” made especially for military use and never approved for sale to the public. The vehicles were “specifically marked” by the government for “destructive” salvage, sale to foreign governments or, in special cases, use as stationary displays at military museums. Safety factors were the reason the vehicles were designated primarily for salvage, with the Army ordering that parts of the vehicles could be sold only after the frames and suspensions had been cut.
The attorney general alleges that the investigation into Mr. Dobbin’s vehicles “has produced compelling proof that these vehicles were stolen from the proper chain of custody or control,” either by Mr. Dobbin or by someone else.
Mr. Renzi counters that Mr. Dobbin is in his 80s and had never been in legal trouble in his life. He argues that the Army is on the record saying it has no interest in the vehicles and that the attorney general is trying to seize Mr. Dobbin’s property without compensation, a move the attorney general’s office has not proven it has the authority to do. Mr. Renzi claims the attorney general is using his subpoena powers to “fish for evidence” that Mr. Dobbin has committed a crime, evidence that he claims the attorney general lacks. He argues that Mr. Dobbin has a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself in a criminal case.
In addition to ordering Mr. Dobbin to be examined under oath, Judge McClusky has ordered him to produce documents related to the possession, maintenance, destruction, salvage, auction or sales of the vehicles in question.