fake inspections real plates

Texas DPS arrests two employees, arrests and detains nine others in fake inspection probe

DPS employees were arrested after five people were arrested at a Dallas inspection station on April 26

NBC Universal, Inc.

Two insiders at The Texas Department of Public Safety are accused of taking cash in exchange for helping businesses conduct fake vehicle emissions tests.

In a statement provided to NBC 5 Investigates Friday, DPS officials said the two employees have been arrested on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity after an internal investigation into illegal "clean scanning."

Clean scanning is a practice where during a vehicle emissions test a VIN from one vehicle is entered into computer records while the actual emissions test is performed on another vehicle or performed using a simulator, resulting in a fraudulent "passing" score.

The DPS told NBC 5 Investigates on Friday afternoon that the arrest of its own employees was the result of an ongoing investigation that began when the department's Regulatory Services Division conducted several operations on vehicle inspection stations throughout Texas where illegal activity was believed to be taking place.

Those stations were put under surveillance by members of the RSD, the DPS's Criminal Investigations Division, and the Texas Highway Patrol, and several arrests were made.

The DPS said the arrests included five people at a Dallas inspection station on April 26 and that investigators subsequently learned from those arrests that two DPS employees were being paid by someone at the station to help them avoid detection.

Those two DPS employees were arrested on Friday by Texas Rangers and have each been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity. The employees have also been suspended pending the results of the criminal and administrative investigations.

The DPS said four others who were not DPS employees were also detained Friday and could also face charges.

"DPS strives to maintain the highest level of integrity among its employees and will pursue prosecution for those engaging in any type of criminal activity," the DPS said in a statement Friday. "RSD continues to work closely with the Rangers to ensure that all illegal activity is uncovered and stopped."

Investigations into "clean scanning" are ongoing and the DPS said more arrests and charges are expected.


The Texas DPS told NBC 5 Investigates Friday afternoon that the investigation is connected to an inspection shop we have been asking questions about in recent weeks -- South Side Inspections -- because records show that shop cranked out a massive number of inspections.

The DPS said the investigation began on April 26, that’s the same day NBC 5 Investigates rode with DPS State Troopers as they conducted surveillance at a number of Dallas inspection stations.

DPS records showed we would find South Side Inspections at 2719 Romine Avenue in Dallas.

We double-checked a building in the parking lot, but instead of an inspection shop, we found a snow cone stand where the employees didn’t know anything about state inspections.

One day in June we sat nearby and watched that parking lot for an hour. We didn't see inspections happening either. But during that hour state records show South Side Inspections reported inspecting 33 vehicles, or about one every two minutes.

The records showed that in less than five months the shop issued inspections for more than 56,000 vehicles. There were 55 days when South Side Inspections cranked out more than 500 inspections in a single day.

Law enforcement investigators told NBC 5 Investigates numbers like that are a red flag because they said it's not possible for a small shop to turn out legitimate inspections that fast.

The DPS said Friday it served a warrant at South Side Inspections, at another address on Romine Avenue, but they declined to release that address or share the names of the people the agency said are detained and facing possible charges.

For weeks NBC 5 Investigates has tried to reach the person listed in state records as the owner of South Side Inspections, but the main phone number was disconnected and other messages have not been returned.


In March, NBC 5's Investigates showed how some state-licensed vehicle inspection stations are taking cash in exchange for falsely passing cars -- and the state's computer system does nothing to flag the fake inspections and prevent those cars from getting real Texas license plates. Law enforcement fraud investigators from a Travis County unit that investigates fraud said they suspect millions of cars on Texas roads never passed state-required safety or emissions tests.

Through "clean scans," those cars were able to get temporary paper license plates, or even regular metal plates, by paying an inspection station to fraudulently pass the car.

Compounding the problem, state records and undercover videos shot by NBC 5 Investigates reveal that the state’s inspection computer system gathers data showing that the inspections may be fake, but the system is not set up to immediately flag stations conducting fake inspections.

What's more, investigators told NBC 5 Investigates earlier this year that technology has made faking an inspection even easier by allowing fraudulent inspectors to plug a flash drive directly into the emissions analyzer and run software that simulates a car's diagnostic system. The program delivers a passing emissions test without a car being present -- and if the car isn't present it also isn't getting the state-required safety inspection of the brakes, steering, tires, and signals.

Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw said he understood the computer system’s inability to immediately flag fraud is contributing to the issue and pledged that his agency would work to find solutions along with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which maintains the computer system.

In April, McCraw told NBC 5 Investigates he is frustrated that the state's lack of technology to prevent the fraud has created extra work for law enforcement.

“It forces us to divert resources from high priority matters to lower priority matters just for a period of time so we can have an impact,” McCraw said in the April interview.

State enforcement records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates raised questions about whether the Texas DPS failed to act fast enough to shut down vehicle inspection stations suspected of taking cash in exchange for allegedly falsely passing cars.

The records suggest hundreds of questionable inspections happened right under the nose of a DPS auditor charged with enforcing the inspection rules, yet DPS took no enforcement action against the shop itself.

In the weeks since NBC 5 Investigates started asking questions, the TCEQ activated a feature in the computer that at least locks out some inspectors after they are suspected of running multiple fake inspections.

But in order to prevent vehicle inspectors from falsely passing cars in real-time, instead of after the fact, the TCEQ said it would also have to modify the emissions analyzer software.

In a recent statement, to NBC 5 Investigates, TCEQ Chairman Jon Niermann told NBC 5 Investigates he was working with McCraw in an effort to address the problem.

"Director McCraw and I discussed some of the potential challenges to implementation, including legal and administrative concerns. These may also include novel challenges; TCEQ is reaching out to other states to understand their capabilities for discussion with DPS. Moreover, any solution will have limitations. For example, we expect that some number of scans may be misidentified as fraudulent, inconveniencing innocent vehicle owners and inspectors," Niermann said.

Contact Us