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Gersh Kuntzman

TEMP TAG TUESDAY: We Bought a Fake Plate for N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy!

12:01 AM EDT on May 2, 2023

It’s his temporary tag. I’m just holding it for him.

This is the third edition of Streetsblog’s new feature, “Temp Tag Tuesday,” which explores how easy it is to buy illegal temporary license plates and how little local and out-of-state officials are doing to stop the scourge. To read prior episodes, click here. And, as promised, "Temp Tag Tuesday" now has a theme song, too. Click here to listen.

This time, I got a fraudulent New Jersey temp tag by using the name of the New Jersey governor!

Read Jesse Coburn's investigation by clicking this logo.
Read Jesse Coburn's investigation by clicking this logo.

Yes, it's Temp Tag Tuesday — my series of open mockery of New Jersey's weak regulations that have allowed a black market in fraudulent license plates to flourish in New York City. This week's hilarious episode offers a new twist: When I gave my info to the shady used car dealer I found on Craigslist, I used the name "Phil Murphy," who just happens to be the Garden State gov.

That's something any used car dealer in Jersey should know, but my guy didn't flinch. He just told me the price — $150 — and .asked for my info (Reminder: As Jesse Coburn's three-part investigation showed, it's illegal for anyone, let alone a licensed car dealer, to issue a temporary tag unless he or she sells you the car.)

I provided a vehicle identification number for a friend's car with one number wrong, plus my fake name and my real address. I got this response: "Hey Phil, that VIN number is incorrect," with a screenshot from a Volkswagen website. (I wondered why he bothered to check.)

"Oy. I typed it wrong," I texted. "The last number is 9! Sorry."

This time, everything was in order (um, Phil Murphy?). We made arrangements to meet, though my vendor changed the plans a million times, with various excuses (he was installing a cable box for a friend in Corona, then he was in Brooklyn when I was in Queens, etc. etc.), but eventually, we made the handoff in front of my building (um, my name's Phil. Phil Murphy. Not Gersh Kuntzman. Gersh is just a handsome neighbor. I'm Phil!).

Upon receipt, I learned that the dealer number on the plate — 03493U — doesn't show up in a database of dealers who have been issuing temp tags since 2019 that was featured in Coburn's series. The name of the company on the plate, "Top of the Line Motors," does exist in New Jersey business databases, but does not appear to be operating currently. One the listings shows the business based at a multi-dealer location in Delran, N.J. — a warren of tiny offices with little visible business activity that nonetheless is the "home" of 66 used car dealerships that issued 8,000 temporary license plates last year.

It's the kind of facility that is enabled by lax New Jersey regulations, as Coburn's story delightfully showed.

The 66 used car dealerships at this facility in Delran, New Jersey, issued 8,000 temporary license plates last year. Photos: Johnny Milano
The 66 used car dealerships at this facility in Delran, New Jersey, issued 8,000 temporary license plates last year. Photos: Johnny Milano

But that Top of the Line Motors apparently "dissolved before commencing business." The other one was listed at another multi-dealer location, this one in Bridgeton, uncovered by Coburn in his in-depth investigation. But that Top of the Line Motors appears to be inoperative since 2018.

I asked the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission if Top of the Line had been disciplined for issuing fraudulent temp tags or for illegally selling them, but the agency asked me to file a freedom of information request, which I did. I'll update this story if that basic information is provided.

A reasonable theory is that the guy who sold this to me used to run a licensed dealership named Top of the Line Motors, but was either shut down by New Jersey or simply operates under the surface, editing existing PDFs of temporary tags that he downloaded when he had access to New Jersey's registration system.

Indeed, if you run the plate's QR code, it does, like a legit plate, spit out my friend's car's information, which would likely convince a city cop that the fake plate is indeed legit.

So the NYPD has little recourse because the fake looks real. New Jersey doesn't care because the person selling it to me isn't a licensed dealer. You'd at least think that the insurance company listed on the plate — Nationwide — would care that its policy number and name are on the "temporary vehicle registration" that comes with temp tags.

Nah. I called Nationwide and got hung up on three times before someone gave me a media relations number, which only allowed me to leave a message asking someone to call me, which the company didn't bother to do. You'd think an insurance company would care about fraud?

And you'd think Phil Murphy would, too, but his press office only told me it would "respectfully" decline to comment.

Respectfully? Well, at least they should tell the governor that I have his plate.

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