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Texas DPS Director Pledges to Help Fix Fake Vehicle Inspection Security Gap

An NBC 5 Investigation revealed the state’s vehicle inspection computer system allows stations to enter fake inspections known as “clean scans” and does not prevent those cars from obtaining license plates, even though they were never checked

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Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw is promising to help fix a major security gap in the state's vehicle inspection program, a gap first exposed in an exclusive report from NBC 5 Investigates.

Our reporting 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.

Cars that were never checked, and may be unsafe on the road.

A group of Travis County law enforcement investigators told NBC 5 Investigates their own analysis of state data showed as many as five million cars on Texas roads had "clean scans" -- fake inspections -- where someone pays a state-licensed inspector to falsely pass an emissions test and skip the safety checks on things like the brakes and tires.

Making things worse, NBC 5 Investigates discovered the state inspection computer system maintained by TCEQ captures data showing many inspections are fake but does not stop those cars from falsely passing.

For weeks, NBC 5 has requested interviews with the heads of two state agencies in charge of the inspection system, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to know why the computer system is not programmed to help prevent fraud.

Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw said he understood the computer system is contributing to the problems and pledged that his agency would work to be part of the solution.

“We’ve got an obligation to enforce it, whether the system's working or not, and I'm quite confident that we work very closely with TCEQ that we can get this vulnerability taken care of,” McCraw said.

The TCEQ maintains the inspection computer system while DPS enforces the inspection rules.

McCraw spoke with NBC 5 Investigates in the halls of the state capitol, where we approached him to seek answers. For weeks, interview requests to McCraw’s staff went unanswered.

In an interview, McCraw said he’s fed up with the number of fraudulent inspections occurring statewide.

“I'm more frustrated by the fact that we have people that are doing this plain and simple, because they're always looking for vulnerabilities, and this is just one more vulnerability they found,” McCraw said.

Earlier this year, NBC 5 Investigates sat outside a state-licensed inspection station in Dallas where we saw no vehicles enter or leave. But state records show during the time we were there the station issued inspections for more than 20 cars.

Our partners at Telemundo 39 went back on another day and saw the same thing – no cars – but more inspections occurring on paper.

<p>NBC 5 Investigates captured undercover videos -- and state records -- raising questions about how many cars on Texas roads -- never passed emissions or safety tests. <a href="https://www.nbcdfw.com/investigations/fake-inspections-real-license-plates-investigators-believe-millions-of-texas-cars-were-never-checked-for-safety-emissions/3220698/">Click here for the full story</a>.</p>

One day after NBC contacted DPS about that station, the agency suspected the station’s license. A DPS audit found the station was conducting hundreds of clean scans -- weeks before NBC 5 visited that location but had not been shut down.

The owner of the station did not respond to NBC 5’s messages seeking comment.

Investigators with the Travis County Constables office told NBC 5 they could see information in the TCEQ’s computer data indicating inspections happening at the station were fake, but the TCEQ system does not prevent the cars from passing.

On Wednesday, NBC 5 reached out again to the TCEQ. The agency said they had no additional comment. 

For weeks, TCEQ officials have declined interview requests but have said in statements the agency has and will continue to work with Texas DPS to help them enforce the inspection rules.

Rep. Craig Goldman from Fort Worth told NBC 5 he is also putting pressure on TCEQ to find a fix.

“Thank you for all that you did to bring that to our attention, and we're not going to stop, right? We'll continue to follow what TCEQ and Texas DPS to see, you know, what a solution there is as well,” Goldman said.

Late Wednesday, a Texas DPS spokesperson sent NBC 5 the following statement expanding on McCraw’s comments.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety has been working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for some time to develop a semi-automated approach that is assisting us as the enforcement arm with shutting down inspection stations where clean-scanning is occurring at a high rate. We will continue to work with our partners to improve this process over time in order to address the statewide issue of clean-scanning.”

But as NBC 5 has reported, Travis County officials suspect one inspection station in Dallas was able to clean scan tens of thousands of cars, or perhaps hundreds of thousands, and was never shut down.

Director McCraw told NBC 5 today he did not know the details of that case but said he would look into it.

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