State Department Orders Tarrant County to Stop Issuing Passports

Extraordinary move comes amid fraud investigation

In a highly unusual move, the U.S. State Department has ordered Tarrant County to indefinitely stop issuing passports.

The order comes amid a federal investigation into the use of fraudulent documents to obtain passports in Tarrant County and whether clerks followed proper procedures, according to a person familiar with the case.

Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder said the State Department sent an email on June 25 ordering him to immediately close the county’s passport offices.

The email, which was followed by a formal letter, did not specify why, he said.

Tarrant County issues about 35,000 passports a year in six offices around the county.

The scope of the ongoing probe is not clear.

"This is the first time I've heard of a whole county being asked to stop the presses," said former FBI Special Agent Gil Torrez.

He stressed he has no specific knowledge of the investigation but said it appeared based on the unusual order that at least one person who should not qualify for a passport received one.

"Passports have always been a lucrative, well-sought-after credential," he said.

Tarrant County Commissioners held a private meeting on the passport issue on June 30, according to the agenda.

Wilder said the State Department told him in the letter that they would be in touch in the next three to four weeks.

"We're in a holding pattern waiting for them to get back to us," he said. "We hope the issue will be resolved in the near future."

People can still apply for passports at certain post offices in Tarrant County.

A spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs declined comment.

NBC 5’s Don Peritz Jr. contributed to this report.

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