Our ongoing KPRC 2 investigation into the temporary tag issue in Texas is showing results, prompting law enforcement to crack down. Additionally, the head of the state agency under fire has resigned. We know that this paper plate issue is a public safety issue close to your heart. That’s why our team of investigators is pushing for answers and continuing to dig in to let you know what state and local leaders are doing about it.
KPRC team sees first-hand the problem of temporary markers on the roads
In just one hour on a morning ride with Harris County Precinct 1 Deputy Constablesour crews have seen firsthand the problem law enforcement is facing on our roads.
In quick succession, deputy constables confiscated the fraudulent temporary tags and seized the vehicles. They collected a huge pile of fake tags in just two weeks in January from 158 traffic stops.
“I found 10 more beacons behind this beacon,” Deputy Constable Martin Garret said.
But deputy constables know they could stop and confiscate cars all day, every day, and barely make a dent in Texas’ temporary tag problem.
“It has to start with the Department of Motor Vehicle,” Garret said. “If they fix all the flaws, criminals won’t be able to access all those tags and sell them for money.”
Why are there so many cars with temporary paper tags?
KPRC 2 Investigates explained how the flaw works three months ago. Authorized Texas auto dealers can issue temporary paper tags to customers who purchase a vehicle while waiting for their permanent metal plate. But the Texas DMV does not require car dealerships to prove who they claim to be when applying for a license. The result was that “authorized” dealers sold millions of paper plates, but not a single vehicle.
Vidor PD Sergeant Ed Martin is one of the few officers in Texas who teaches other law enforcement how to spot fraudulent tags and how to crack down on crime. We were invited to attend one of the training sessions.
“It’s making victims of citizens. But it also allows a criminal enterprise to thrive and it’s time to shut it down,” said Sgt. Martin.
We took a trip to Austin in January to ask questions at a DMV board meeting. Members voted to immediately cut resellers from the temporary tag portal when they are suspected of selling tags fraudulently. Restricting access to the system used to take up to 10 days or more.
“The removal of access for bad players is effective immediately,” said Whitney Brewster, then-executive director of TX DMV.
Family defends son killed by driver with temporary tag
The changes in Austin are both too small and too late for 18-year-old Terrin Solbrig.
“We want people to be more aware. It’s not just toll tags that don’t get paid. This is not your unpaid inspection fee. It can happen to anyone,” said Tawny Solbrig, a victim of temporary tag fraud.
His son Terrin died instantly when he was hit by a truck driving on the wrong side of the road.
“I had no Texas driver’s license, no insurance, no state inspection on the vehicle, none of that,” Tawny said.
What the driver had in his possession was a fraudulent temporary tag from two men accused of delivering nearly 600,000 paper plates in two years with fictitious car dealerships.
Emmanuel Padilla Reyes aka Christian Hernandez Bonilla is still at large. A federal investigator tells KPRC 2 Investigates they aren’t even sure they have his real identity because the DMV doesn’t require car dealerships to submit fingerprints.
“Right now you can interrupt someone, but you still don’t know who they are. Without it, you’re sitting there spinning your tires,” said Sgt. Jose Escribano, Travis County Constable, Precinct 3.
While DMV executive director Whitney Brewster asked staff to draft a policy for applicants *eventually* to fingerprint dealers, she admitted that if that happened, it would still be months away.
“We plan to bring it back in June, for consideration by the board for adoption,” Brewster said.
Texas DMV chief suddenly resigns
Just 10 days after that meeting in Austin, Brewster resigned, writing in an email to DMV staff: “Often the hardest thing to do as a public servant leader is to step back and accept that you have done all you can and it might be time to allow new leaders to take the reins.
Two days later, DMV general counsel Tracey Beavers also resigned.
“I don’t want to fight the DMV. I want cooperation. That’s all I want. And the general public deserves it,” said Sgt. Writer.
Local leaders are mobilizing to try to solve the problem
“I believe the state understands how well you know what it is,” Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 2 Adrian Garcia Davis said. A former HPD officer and Harris County Sheriff, Garcia said, “You have a segment of our population that uses this system to hide their identity and go out and commit crimes. It is a problem.”
Garcia instructed Harris County Deputy and Deputy Constables to begin noting on each incident report whether suspects were in a vehicle with paper plates. The additional information will help the county determine exactly the extent of the fake plate problem.
“At least we can now begin to directly associate the violent crime that takes place with paper plates,” Garcia said. “We didn’t have that before.”
Are we ditching paper plates altogether?
the Association of Tax Assessors-Collectors of Texas submitted a proposal to the DMV board in January, an idea to help stop the fraudulent use of paper plates.
“Instead of issuing paper plates, we could issue metal plates,” Bell County Assessor-Collector Shay Luedeke explained. “It would require the customer to come back to the dealership to get their real plate every time we complete the title transfer. This is just one way to prevent fraud. Because with paper, of course, you can go to the photocopier and just copy it.
Luedeke says counties lose money when drivers buy fraudulent temporary plates instead of properly registering their vehicles.
“We don’t get road and bridge fees from the county. We do not receive child safety fees. Many local governments are absent,” he explained.
No one on the DMV board commented on the idea when it was presented at the meeting.
The Toll Roads Authority cracks down
The Harris County Toll Road Authority is also losing millions in the fraudulent temporary tag scandal. He told KPRC 2 he was unable to collect $10.8 million from drivers of vehicles with temporary tags that could not be associated with an owner.
In January, HCTRA launched an enforcement campaign called “Tag You’re it”, in which deputy constables assigned to the Harris County toll system stopped vehicles with paper plates suspected of being fraudulent. In approximately 3 weeks, these assistant constables issued 1,363 temporary tag citations and towed 115 vehicles with fraudulent tags or title issues.
During this crackdown, Deputy Constable Martin Garret made a rather bizarre stop. You can find out all about what he discovered here in this KPRC 2 Insider exclusive:
Our KPRC 2 Investigates team will continue to follow the latest developments on the temporary beacon issue in Texas. Like always, let us know if you have a tip that might help!
Copyright 2022 by KPRC Click2Houston – All Rights Reserved.