Director of the Texas DMV resigns amid fake paper tags scandal


The head of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles resigned Monday as the board that oversees the agency tries to restore credibility to the state’s temporary license plate system in the wake of an investigation that exposed how lax security has let criminals infiltrate the DMV’s license tag system, create hundreds of thousands of fake paper tags and sell them for profit.

“Addressing temporary tag abuse has been our highest priority,” Whitney Brewster said in a resignation letter. She added that she is proud of how the department worked to find solutions to the problem and that, “in leaving, the deck is clear for new leadership.”

The agency confirmed Brewster’s departure as executive director in a news release Monday afternoon.

In recent months Brewster faced criticism from law enforcement officials concerned about the number of fraudulent tags on Texas roads, and questions from the agency’s own board about why the DMV did not act more quickly to collaborate with law enforcement and enact measures to stem the tide of illegal tags.

By one recent law enforcement estimate, more than 1.2 million fraudulent tags were created in 2021 by people who were able to apply for and obtain Texas car dealers licenses and then access the state’s electronic tag system.

Police said many of those tags are created with false names, addresses and VIN numbers and can be used to make “ghost cars” that are difficult for police to trace. The fraudulent Texas tags have become a headache for law enforcement in other states including Nevada and New York, where police say the tags are being used by people attempting to conceal crimes.

In November, a series of reports that revealed the massive scope of the problem. The reports were the first to use the DMV’s own data to show how tiny dealers, including some that seem to exist only on paper, have printed more temporary paper plates than many of the state’s largest franchise car dealers. This was a clear sign, law enforcement investigators said, that those small dealerships were selling tags instead of cars.

The reports also showed how the DMV does not meet with dealer license applicants in person or take their fingerprints to verify the identity of the person applying for the dealer license. Additionally, the DMV has allowed dealers to add “authorized users” to their accounts, giving additional un-vetted people the ability to issue temporary tags via the state’s eTag/Web Dealer system.

When confronted with the information uncovered last fall, Brewster acknowledged the problem had become an “emergency” but insisted her hands had been tied because the agency lacked legislative authority to immediately revoke the licenses of suspect dealers, prior to the passage of a new law in mid-2021. She said the agency was also unsure whether it had the legislative authority to fingerprint people applying for dealer licenses to verify their identities.

Some law enforcement officials had complained for years about a lack of cooperation from the DMV and a lack of security in the tag system, including one flaw that allowed unscrupulous dealers to enter false VIN numbers and still obtain temporary tags.

The DMV insisted it attempted to fix that flaw after police first raised the concern in 2019, but the agency said it was unaware until December 2021 that fraudsters had found another way to upload files containing false VIN’s and obtain temporary tags. That security loophole was closed days after news media questioned the agency about it.

At a board meeting late last month, the DMV board gave final approval to new rules that will allow the agency to more quickly revoke the licenses of dealers suspected of fraud. The board also asked staff to fast-track a plan for fingerprinting dealer applicants.

Fort Worth police union head Manny Ramirez, the lone DMV board member who represents law enforcement, expressed frustration with the amount of time it has taken the DMV to respond to the problem.

Ramirez said the actions the board approved recently are steps that the agency should have taken “years ago.”

At that recent board meeting, media asked Brewster how people could trust that she was looking out for Texas when the fraud grew into such a significant problem under her watch.

“The agency is required to follow Texas law,” Brewster responded, reiterating that she felt the agency has been hampered by a lack of legislative authority.

After the initial news reports aired, state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburgh, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, vowed in December to hold committee hearings to investigate what additional steps need to be taken to correct the problems. Brewster said this month that she expects the tag issue will be an interim charge for the Legislature to take up between now and the start of the 2023 legislative session.

Brewster was named Texas DMV executive director in 2012. A Houston native, she previously was director of the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles and before that was Alaska’s director of elections in the office of then-Gov. Sarah Palin. Brewster was only the second executive director to lead the DMV since its creation in 2009.

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