An NBC 5 investigation shows just how hard it may be to get all of those Texas paper license plates off of cars that should not have them.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has been cracking down on small car dealers caught illegally selling tags. But what NBC 5 Investigates found in one local city suggests the paper tag problem goes beyond just the dealers who sold tags to cash in on black market profits.
Other dealers are misusing paper tags, putting more of them on the road, adding to headaches for law enforcement officials trying to sort out which ones are legitimate.
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To get a closer look, NBC 5 Investigates focused on just Fort Worth. Through an open records request, our team obtained a TxDMV list which helped us identify small non-franchised car dealers in the city that have issued a lot of paper tags.
What we saw when we visited some of those dealers raised questions about how many misused tags or misunderstood the TxDMV rules for paper buyers tags, which are supposed to be issued to buyers at the time a car is sold.
Our dealer visits also found some small dealers are difficult to find.
SOME SMALL LOCAL DEALERS DON'T FOLLOW OR MISUNDERSTAND DMV'S TAG RULES
The first stop was a lot on east Rosedale Street in Fort Worth, the home of El Compra Auto Sales who, according to DMV records issued almost 1,100 buyer's tags in 12 months in 2021. That's more than some brand-name franchise auto dealers in Fort Worth.
But at the address the DMV lists for El Compa, our team found something else -- a mattress and furniture store.
From outside that store, NBC 5 Investigates reached El Compa’s owner, Dora Arellano-Garcia, by phone.
Arrellano-Garcia was adamant she does not sell paper tags on the black market. Property records showed she is part owner of the building with the furniture store, but she told us lately recently she has been selling cars online instead.
But Arellano-Garcia acknowledged that even though TxDMV records show she issued almost 1,100 buyer's tags last year she did not sell nearly 1,100 cars.
She told us she printed more than one tag for the same car sometimes while waiting on title paperwork needed for permanent plates.
The TxDMV said issuing more than one buyer's tag to the same car is against the rules. TxDMV board chairman Charles Bacarisse told NBC 5 Investigates it’s a problem that the agency is preparing to address more aggressively. He said the agency needs to do more to police, not just small dealers who sell tags, but those who misuse them too.
“I think it does have ... a fraud element to it, so that’s for us to better regulate. And we're certainly preparing to do that,” Bacarisse said in an interview.
When dealers issue multiple buyer's tags to the same car it can allow drivers to avoid paying registration for months, and it puts more paper tags on the road. That creates additional challenges for police who are trying to spot fraudulent ones in the middle of a virtual sea of questionable tags now seen on Texas streets.
TEXAS DMV WANTS MORE INSPECTORS TO VISIT DEALERS IN PERSON
For the TxDMV, catching dealers who are misusing tags can be tough. The agency only has only 35 investigators statewide to check on more than 20,000 registered dealers.
“At the end of the day, this job can't be done by others. This agency, the DMV, will need more people to go out, more inspectors to go out on-site,” Bacarisse told NBC 5 Investigates.
Inspecting small dealers may be a bigger job than anyone imagines based on what NBC 5 Investigates saw at the handful of Fort Worth dealers visited.
To start with, some are not where they are supposed to be.
TxDMV rules require dealers to have a real office, staffed during business hours and a permanent sign at their licensed address. NBC 5 Investigates didn't see that at several licensed dealer locations we visited.
DID YOU REALLY SELL 2,200 CARS?
DMV records said a dealer called Chacon's Auto Service should be located at a warehouse complex in North Fort Worth.
Records show Chacon’s issued more than 2,200 temporary tags in 2021 -- the most of any non-franchised dealer in Fort Worth. But a neighbor told us he never saw cars in large numbers even when Chacon’s was there.
“No way, no. No amount of cars like that ever here. No traffic like that,” said neighboring business owner, Jonathan Clark.
Clark remembers Chacon's once had a sign on one of the doors but doesn’t believe the dealer could have sold 2,267 cars from that location as the DMV’s records show.
“We haven't had 2,200 cars around out here, and there's no parking for 2,200 cars,” Clark told NBC 5 Investigates.
Over the phone, Chacon's owner, Monica Chacon, told NBC 5 Investigates she sometimes gave car buyers more than one tag while waiting for title paperwork.
Chacon said she regretted that, and said that at times, perhaps didn't take things as seriously as she could have when it came to understanding the TxDMV's rules. Chacon told NBC she's been in the process of closing the dealership.
DEALER SAYS SLOW DMV PROCESSES FORCE HIM TO PRINT MULTIPLE TAGS
Only one of four Fort Worth dealers NBC 5 Investigates visited was actually at their licensed address. That dealer, Zoom-In Auto Sale on Berry Street, issued more than 1,200 buyer's tags in 15 months according to TxDMV records.
The owner, Saboor Jawshan, said he doesn't think he issued that many and told NBC 5 Investigates his dealership never sold tags.
In his parking lot, NBC 5 Investigates saw two cars with questionable tags. A check of the VIN on the tags found neither car had a state inspection in the last 180 days which means under DMV rules those cars shouldn't have buyer's tags.
Jawshan said he thought it was OK to put a buyer's tag on a car and then wait to inspect it when the title is transferred to the new owner. The TxDMV told NBC 5 Investigates that’s not OK.
Last fall, the DMV issued Jawshan two warnings for misusing buyer's tags after DMV investigators found he issued a buyer's tag to one car that had not been inspected, and in another case printed more than one buyer's tag for the same car.
Jawshan told NBC 5 that in some cases he was forced to issue more than one buyer's tag to the same vehicle even though the DMV rules don’t allow that.
“They don't allow it, at the same time I can't leave the customers without a plate. They would come to me saying, where's my plate?” he told NBC 5 Investigates.
Jawshan explained that sometimes tax offices and auto auctions are slow to process title paperwork and that leaves dealers no choice but to keep handing out buyer's tags.
He said the DMV needed to streamline the paperwork process and should focus its enforcement efforts on investigating dealers that sell tags and not those dealing with what he describes as paperwork issues.
“We did some things that we had to do at the time, but it wasn't to be illegal or break the law or anything like that. It was just to try to get by,” said Jawshan.
TEXAS DMV TO ASK TEXAS LEGISLATURE FOR HELP
Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens wants to cut the number of questionable paper tags plastered on cars all over the city that are creating challenges for police
“The preponderance of these paper tags is overwhelming for some,” Bivens told NBC 5 Investigates.
In February, Fort Worth police launched a special operation taking dozens of illegal tags off the streets in just hours. But Bivens said keeping tabs on car dealers is the TxDMV’s job.
“Processing of tags, that's in their wheelhouse. We'll police the streets, but they can make it a lot easier for everyone if they would just clean up that process,” Bivens said.
The DMV wants to help but said it can't do it all with current staff.
“We'll have something ready for the legislature. It will be part of our overall package when we come to them asking for support in the next legislative session,” said Bacarisse.
The TxDMV has said it plans to ask for 15 additional investigators during the next legislative session in 2023, but with more than 20,000 dealers, even 15 additional investigators would leave about 400 dealers per investigator.
It appears there is plenty of work for more inspectors with many questionable tags still on the roads.
Driving through one east side Fort Worth neighborhood recently, NBC 5 Investigates spotted 14 paper tags in less than 10 minutes. Four tags were expired. One was issued by LeNoir Lane LLC, a dealer the DMV shut down and was suspected of selling tags.
At first glance, it's hard to tell how many of the other tags are legit or not.
PAPER TAG NATION
- 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