AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles are investigating after a Hays County employee was arrested, accused of illegally selling license plates and vehicle registrations for months, along with a state-licensed inspector who is accused of illegally selling vehicle inspection reports, according to several law enforcement sources who shared the information exclusively with KXAN.
The Hays County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office is now being audited, and law enforcement officers said this could just be the beginning. TxDMV officials said they are “aware of concerns” with the now former employee but declined an interview, citing the ongoing investigation.
“Department staff have been cooperating with both county office leadership and law enforcement investigating the issue,” TxDMV spokesperson Adam Shaivitz said in a statement. “Department staff are conducting compliance reviews of all office operations to ensure the actions were limited to a single county employee.”
The now former Hays County employee, Yobana Ofelia Salano-Sequeira, is being investigated for illegally selling license plates and vehicle registrations for months through Facebook ads and intermediaries, sources said.
She was arrested June 1 and charged with tampering with a government record.
KXAN reached out to the Hays County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office but did not immediately hear back. The TxDMV confirmed it is investigating the actions of a “former” employee at the office.
Jose Jasso, a vehicle inspector in Kyle, was also arrested on the same day as Salano-Sequeira and charged with the same offense. A law enforcement source said Jasso admitted to approving vehicle inspections for $40 each time, daily, without ever looking at the cars. It is unclear how long this may have occurred.
Sources said Jasso worked for Leo’s Automotive State Inspections in Kyle. KXAN called, and a man, who identified himself as the owner, Leo Mendez, said he agreed to do a one-time “favor,” for free, for Salano-Sequeira. Mendez said he authorized an inspection for a car they never looked at, because she said it was for a close friend whose husband was too busy with work and needed help.
“If somebody is guilty, it’s me,” Mendez said. “Because I said, ‘Just go ahead and do it.’ Not my employee…because he has nothing to do with it. He was just following orders. I’m the guilty one, not him.”
Chief Dep. Kenneth Smith with the Comal County Constable’s Office Pct. 3 said allowing vehicles on the road that shouldn’t be creates a safety hazard for drivers and puts everyone on the road at risk.
“Obviously, there’s a safety issue with the vehicle, so if you’re circumventing that system, there’s a reason. And most of the time it’s because the vehicles aren’t registered or can’t obtain registration due to the inspection,” Smith said. “By circumventing that system, you’re looking at putting a bunch of unsafe vehicles on the road and/or vehicles that should not be registered.”
Smith said the allegations don’t surprise him due to the $200 million black market for paper license plates, which KXAN investigated. His office helped uncover the alleged scheme to sell license plates when they pulled over and arrested Fredy Lazaro Acosta-Alvarez of Austin on May 15. Paperwork in his vehicle linked him to Salano-Sequeira, who registered his car, sources said, after it failed an emissions inspection in Travis County — something that is not required if he lived in Hays.
Acosta-Alvarez is charged with tampering with a government record and displaying a fictitious license plate and registration.
Smith expects there will be more charges and more arrests.
“The network that is happening, and the way the investigation is going, it’s going into other counties,” he said. “So, obviously, it’s going to be more than just a centralized area of just the San Marcos area.”