In late 2021, KXAN re-launched an investigation into a problem our team knows well, a topic we already tackled for two years with ongoing reports, a criminal operation Texas promised to shut down… with no success. We discovered crooks still have the ability to access the Department of Motor Vehicles’ dealership database with relative ease. The result is a $200 million enterprise where real temporary tags, with fake information, are printed and sold to all 50 states, giving violent criminals the ability to hide from law enforcement in plain sight. Our new investigation explores how effective the TxDMV’s oversight measures are and what it can do in the future.
Part 1: Crooks Covering Up Crimes
Sgt. Jose Escribano glances down at his laptop, then back at the road. He’s scanning Austin’s streets looking for what some in law enforcement call “ghost cars.”
Part 2: Fixing the Paper Plate Problem
The man with hundreds of real but fraudulently created temporary Texas tags thinks he is about to sell one more. The buyer, however, is an undercover cop.
Part 3: Tougher Background Checks
Some in law enforcement want dealer applicants fingerprinted and non-franchised car lots physically inspected to ensure they don’t exist solely on paper.
Part 4: Death Hits Close to Home
Tawny Solbrig wept after telling the TxDMV it not only failed the state but also her son, who was killed in a crash with a driver with temporary tags.
Part 5: TxDMV Executive Director Resigns
TxDMV head Whitney Brewster steps down amid KXAN’s investigation and turmoil over the state’s ongoing paper license plate problems.
Part 6: DMV Search Warrant Served
Body camera video obtained exclusively by KXAN, along with emails and interviews, show a strained relationship between the TxDMV and law enforcement for several years.
Part 7: DMV Panel Pushes System Change
A TxDMV committee said it would consider “any and all measures” to crack down on paper plate fraud – at an estimated cost as high as $2 million a year.
Part 8: Second Top DMV Official Resigns
The TxDMV general counsel steps down – the second executive to depart in four days amid a KXAN investigation into the statewide agency’s paper plate problem.
Part 9: Progress with Paper Plate Fix
Some changes by the DMV board are already working, according to law enforcement. But concerns over VIN verification still exist, as officials mull additional safety features.
Part 10: New DMV Acting Head Appointed
Daniel Avitia was appointed to the top DMV spot following a closed-door session and sudden departures of two agency executives the same week.
Part 11: Tag Abuse “Our Highest Priority”
KXAN obtained the former DMV head’s resignation letter, claiming she took “necessary reforms based upon the latitude given to the TxDMV.”
Part 12: “Priority” for Texas Lawmakers
The Texas House will take up the state’s paper license plate problem before the next session, a spokesperson for the chamber’s leader confirmed to KXAN.
Part 13: 30-day Permit Fraud Crackdown
The TxDMV now requires drivers to show items like proof of insurance and a passing vehicle inspection to get a short-term permit, following KXAN reports.
Part 14: Fraud Hits ‘Screeching Halt’
The mass-producing of fraudulent paper license plates has largely halted in Texas amid tighter restrictions, local law enforcement tells the TxDMV.
Part 15: Training Law Enforcement
KXAN’s ongoing investigations are used to educate Texas law enforcement officers as to the scope and magnitude of the state’s paper plate problem.
Part 16: House Panel Tackles Tags
The Texas House Transportation Committee weighs the effectiveness of a 2021 law meant to curb temporary tag abuse – part of its interim charges.
Part 17: DMV Appoints New Head
Daniel Avitia has been praised by fellow board members and law enforcement for his handling of Texas’ temporary tag fraud problem, following a KXAN investigation.
Part 18: Fingerprints Fight Fraud
All Texas car dealers, or those hoping to become one, will have to be fingerprinted, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles decided following a KXAN investigation.
Part 19: Crooks Shift to Metal Plates
An unexpected and unintended consequence of Texas’ crackdown on its paper tag problem is an increase in the theft of “hard” aluminum license plates, some police say.
Part 20: Major Tag Design Overhaul
The TxDMV unveils a redesigned temporary tag, working with law enforcement to make paper plates “more complex and secure.” But some critics still have concerns.
Part 21: New Temp Tags Launched
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles rolls out major design changes to its temporary tags to help prevent fraudulent paper license plates from circulating.
Part 22: Bill Would Nix Paper Tags
Several bills have been filed at the State Capitol to address this ongoing issue, including one that does away with the paper tag system altogether in Texas.
Part 23: Senate Urged to Ban Paper Tags
A Senate committee heard testimony on a bill that would replace the state’s temporary paper license plates with metal ones to crack down on crime.
Part 24: House Passes Paper Tag Bill
A bill to ban paper plates in Texas clears an early legislative hurdle, heading from the House to the Senate – where an identical bill awaits action.
Part 25: Senate Passes Amended Bill
The Senate approves an amended bill to ban paper plates in the final days of Texas’ legislative session, sending it back to the House for final review.
Part 26: Bill Heads to Governor
Sparked by KXAN investigations, a bill to rid Texas of paper license plates received final approval in the House 137-0. It now goes to the governor.