KPRC 2 Investigates: Who is keeping track of paper tags on vehicles?

HOUSTON – If you’ve spent any time driving on Houston roadways, you’ve probably noticed there seem to be more temporary paper license plates. Many of you are asking KPRC 2 Investigates, “Who is keeping track,” and “Who is issuing the tags that make it difficult to find out who’s driving the vehicles they’re on?” Our KPRC 2 Investigates team is getting answers.

Bill to fight fraudulent paper tags

Fraudulent paper tags have become such a problem in Texas that lawmakers passed a bill in the last legislative session to make changes to how temporary tags are administered and allow the DMV to set the maximum number of paper tags licensed dealers can issue. These changes would be a start to stopping certain crimes. (Often times criminals use vehicles with paper plates so they can get away with no trace.)

On social media, Octavian Ocasio boldly advertised the fraudulent sale of paper tags in the months before the FBI charged him with conspiracy and wire fraud. He was just arrested in New York this week. Emmanuel Padilla Reyes aka Christian Hernandez Bonilla is a fugitive. the FBI says he worked with Ocasio and 39-year-old Leidy Areli Hernandez Lopez, a Honduran woman living in Houston, in a nationwide scheme to sell hundreds of thousands of fraudulent Texas paper tags. They got them all through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

Here’s how it works. In Texas, used car dealers pay for paper tags on the DMV’s web portal and print them out as customers buy vehicles. But federal court documents show this pair created four fictitious used car dealerships for the sole purpose of buying and printing some 580,000 paper tags they sold all over the country.

KPRC 2 Investigates fraudulent paper tags

In 2017 KPRC 2 Investigates went undercover to purchase fraudulent paper tags advertised on Facebook. And back then the DMV admitted it was a problem.

“If someone has an invalid driver’s license, that is not something that is verified and checked during the registration process,” said Jeremiah Kuntz, Texas DMV-2017 interview. “How do you know that the person that is inputting that information is being truthful? We don’t have a way of validating that.”

Fast forward four years, in five minutes’ time in Southwest Houston we spotted more than five paper plates in less than two miles.

Why would drivers prefer paper plates?

Drivers want the tags to be anonymous avoiding apprehension, vehicle inspections, and taxes.

Our KPRC 2 Investigates team asked the DMV for an interview to find out how its systems didn’t flag those four small dealerships supposedly selling 145,000 vehicles each in less than two and half years. A spokesperson said because the case is still considered an active investigation they can’t comment.

Right now the DMV says it’s working on how to implement the new bill that would crack down on dealers buying the paper plates for fraudulent purposes.

What if a dealership won’t give me my permanent plates?

Under state law, a dealership has 30 calendar days from the sale date to send the title paperwork to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Or 45 days if the dealership financed the car purchase.

If the paper work is turned in – the new license plates and registration information should arrive before the dealer-issued temporary plates expire. If that doesn’t happen, it could be a sign that the dealership did not have possession of the title when you purchased the vehicle. You should file a complaint with the Texas DMV here.

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.