State lawmakers pressed the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Tuesday for answers about how the agency allowed the illegal sale of temporary license plates to spiral out of control.
In a House Transportation Committee hearing, Chairman Terry Canales pointed out the legislature gave the DMV authority in 2021 to immediately stop small car dealers suspected of selling tags from gaining access to the state's tag system.
But Canales questioned why it took the DMV more than seven months to implement administrative rules and begin immediately suspending the suspected fraudsters.
“I am not here to shoot the messenger but at some point, somebody's got to answer to this committee and the legislature as to why it would take so long and why the media has to be the one that uncovers it so that the agency we gave a directive to can actually do something," Canales said.
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In November 2021, NBC 5 Investigates exposed how small dealers with no storefronts were continuing to print hundreds of thousands of tags, which law enforcement officials suspected were being sold for profit.
At Tuesday's hearing, Daniel Avitia, the DMV's new acting executive director, apologized for the delays in implementing the rules. He took over when the previous director, Whitney Brewster, resigned over the tag debacle.
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"As painful as it may have been to see our agency in the media and receiving those black eyes, I will say that being in the media was part of the solution," Avitia said.
Avitia said it had been challenging for the agency, under his predecessor, to implement the rules due to the complexities of the state's administrative rule process.
By the time the DMV began taking swifter action, fraudulent tags were already begin put on cars used to commit serious crimes in Texas and across the country.
A top Texas of Department of Public Safety commander testified Tuesday that his agency is aware of more than 600 cases in 16 months where cars with paper tags were involved in suspicious incidents the department investigated. The tags make it difficult for law enforcement to identify the owner of a vehicle.
"Criminal street gangs and Mexican cartels are especially known to rely on this tactic, the pervasiveness we have seen time and time again", said DPS Deputy Director Floyd Goodwin.
Sgt. Jose Escribano, a Travis County investigator who specializes in tag fraud, told the committee that the state needs to reinstate funding for task forces that used to investigate tag cases in other major cities including Dallas, where the Dallas County Sheriff's Department once had a dedicated unit. That unit folded after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed funding that supported the task forces in 2017.
Canales urged officers to communicate with his office to help them understand what sort of funding is needed.
Committee members also discussed the need for tougher background checks for people applying for car dealer licenses and the possibility of replacing the current paper tag system with something else.
But Canales, who called the tag problem a "black eye" for the state, suggested many of the fixes could be implemented by the DMV alone, without assistance from the legislature, which cannot pass bills to address the problems until the House and Senate are back in session in 2023.
Tawny Solbrig, the mother of a young man killed in a crash involving a pickup truck that was on the road with an illegal paper tag, urged the committee not to hand the issue back to the DMV without continuing to hold the agency accountable.
"Make sure they are doing what they need to be doing because ultimately y'all are responsible too."
The DMV has previously said it is devising a plan to begin fingerprinting car dealers who can access the electronic tag system, and hopes to approve that plan as early as June. The agency has also discussed the need for more investigators to visit small car dealers and has said it is looking at the possibility of a new more secure system to replace paper tags.
The Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee is also investigating the paper tag mess and is expected to hold its own hearings on the issue soon.
- June 12, 2023 - Gov. Abbott signs law eliminating paper license plates in Texas
- May 24, 2023 - Bill to Eliminate Paper License Plates in Texas Passes Texas Senate
- March 27, 2023 - Texas DMV's New Paper Tag Design Easily Counterfeited, Police Say
- Nov. 17, 2022 - Texas DMV Redesigns Paper License Tags to Include New Security Features
- Nov. 15, 2022 - Police Searching for Paper Tagged 'Ghost Car' in Deadly Grand Prairie Chase
- June 1, 2022 - Police Make Bogus Tag Bust Tied to Social Media Ads
- May 18, 2022 - TxDMV Names New Executive Director Amid Paper Tag Crisis
- May 17, 2022 - Vehicle Used in Dallas Salon Shooting Had Paper Tag
- May 12, 2022 - Ads for Fake Tags Persist, Despite Facebook, TxDMV Efforts
- May 4, 2022 - Texas' Paper Tag Problem Compounded by Small Dealers Misusing Them
- May 3, 2022 - Dallas Police Shut Down Accused Fake Paper Tag Dealer
- April 26, 2022 - Texas House Set to Hold Paper Tag Hearings
- April 14, 2022 - Texas DMV Cracks Down on Dealers Selling Temporary Paper Tags
- April 13, 2022 - TxDMV Closes Inspection Loophole That Put Unsafe Cars on Roads
- April 12, 2022 - Dallas Police Go Undercover to Fight Illegal Paper Tags
- April 7, 2022 - Police Warn of Fake Paper Tags Used to Cheat Car Buyers
- April 5, 2022 - Texas Senate Will Investigate Illegal Paper Tag Crimes, Smuggling
- March 9, 2022 - Texas Paper Tag Crime Danger Extends Nationwide
- March 5, 2022 - Texas House Will Hold Hearings on Paper Tag Mess
- Feb. 28, 2022 - License to Smuggle: Drug Cartels and Human Smugglers Use Paper Texas Tags to Evade
- Feb. 15, 2022 - Fort Worth Police Announce Special Operation Targeting Paper Tags
- Feb. 14, 2022 -- Crash Victim's Parents Want More Cops to Police Paper Tag Fraud
- Feb. 13, 2022 - More Funding Need to Fight Criminals Using Bogus Paper Tags: Police
- Feb. 10, 2022 - Police Report Drop in Fraudulent Tags But Warn Crooks Are Adapting
- Feb. 9, 2022 - Texas DMV Shuts Down Six More Dealers Suspected of Selling Paper License Tags
- Feb. 7, 2022 - TxDMV Director Resigns Amidst Paper Tag Mess
- Jan. 27, 2022 - TxDMV Takes Emergency Action to Keep Crooks From Selling Paper Tags
- Jan. 21, 2022 - Dallas Police Operation Targets Fraudulent Paper Tags
- Jan. 17, 2022 - Recording Shows Police Warned TxDMV of Paper Tag Security Flaw Years Ago
- Dec. 16, 2021 - DMV Committee Recommends Fingerprinting Some Dealers to Slow Paper Tag Fraud
- Dec. 14, 2021 - Texas House Transportation Chair Vows to Stop Paper Tag Fraud
- Dec. 6, 2021 - Texas DMV Boss Deflects Blame for Paper Tag Debacle
- Nov. 23, 2021 - Illegal Paper Tags Costing Texas Taxpayers and Toll Roads Millions
- Nov. 10, 2021 - Suspected Paper Tag Peddler Shut Down Tuesday, Reopens Wednesday: Investigators
- Nov. 8, 2021 - How Texas Paper Tags Became a $200M Criminal Enterprise: NBC 5 Investigates