A New Jersey lawmaker has a novel solution to her state’s widespread temporary license plate scam: getting rid of the paper labels entirely.
The proposal was tabled by Assembly Member Annette Chaparro at a legislative hearing in Trenton on Wednesday, where the Hoboken Democrat cited Streetsblog’s recent three-part investigation into temporary license plate fraud and said she plans to legislate to tackle the “massive” problem .
“We need to change it,” Chaparro said of the state’s temporary license plate system. “I think we should get rid of paper. It’s very easy to duplicate.”
Legislators’ comments led to the first public acknowledgment of the problem by Latrecia Littles-Floyd, Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. The agency licenses and regulates thousands of the state’s auto dealerships, some of which illegally sell temporary license plates, Streetsblog found.
“We are aware that there is a major problem,” Littles-Floyd said at the Chaparro hearing. “Anything you can do legislatively to help us, we’re ready to sit down and discuss it with you.”
Streetsblog examined MVC records and data obtained through public records and found that the agency had issued dealer licenses to numerous companies, which subsequently issued large numbers of temporary license plates without displaying other discernible business activity.
Dealers are only legally allowed to issue time stamps when they are selling or leasing a car to someone. But some New Jersey dealers admitted to Streetsblog that they sold the paper stamps on the black market, where they sell for over $100 and are coveted by drivers, who use them for anonymity while avoiding tolls, without auto insurance drive or commit more serious crimes.
Littles-Floyd, who said Wednesday her “goal is to be transparent,” previously declined Streetsblog’s request for an interview to discuss the temporary tag scam.
Chaparro is the second New Jersey lawmaker to call for legislative action, following Streetsblog’s report. Last month, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty said his staff is drafting legislation to address the small fines the MVC typically levies on merchants caught fraudulently issuing tags.
Chaparro cited one such example at Wednesday’s hearing: a licensed auto dealership that issued 36,000 time stamps in one year — potentially worth millions of dollars on the black market — and only faced a $500 fine when the MVC caught the business and it closed.
“We have audits trying to shut down some of these places,” Littles-Floyd said. But “They impose the fine, they come back. You keep going.”
Chaparro’s proposal would go further than Moriarty’s by doing away with temporary tags entirely — a proposal that’s gaining momentum in Texas, another state where bogus dealers have taken advantage of lax regulations to sell temporary tags. A bill to eliminate paper labels in Texas just passed unanimously in the state House of Representatives and is pending in the state Senate.
The Texas time stamp fraud scandal has been brewing for years and has toppled several senior officials at the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, including Littles-Floyd’s counterpart.
Timestamps from Texas, New Jersey and Georgia are common on the streets of New York City, where shoppers admit to Streetsblog that they’re driving it without car insurance or valid licenses. The tags are widely promoted online and can easily be acquired illegally.
A Georgia lawmaker and a New York City Council member also told Streetsblog last month that they plan to legislate on the issue.
In her comments on Wednesday, Littles-Floyd noted that temporary tag fraud was a “nationwide” problem. However, Streetsblog found that New Jersey and Georgia were particularly vulnerable to the problem because the states make it much easier to obtain merchant credentials and issue official temporary tags than other states.
MVC spokesman William Connolly late Wednesday did not respond to questions about Chaparro’s proposal to eliminate paper license plates entirely.