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Ghost Tags

‘Law-and-Order’ Council Member Had Fake, Illegal License Plate in Her Driveway

The bogus temporary tag was on a luxury sports car outside the home of Queens lawmaker Vickie Paladino. The car belongs to her son and spokesman, Thomas Paladino Jr.

A fake temporary license plate on Thomas Paladino Jr.’s Aston Martin in May.

City Council Member Vickie Paladino has decried unregistered vehicles, called for mandatory bicycle license plates and sponsored legislation to combat fake temporary tags on cars.

At her home in Whitestone, Queens, it’s a different story.

Parked in her driveway last week, visible from the sidewalk, was a luxury sports car bearing an Arizona temporary license plate that the Arizona Department of Transportation says is a fraud.

The 90-day paper tag — the kind that drivers get when buying a car — lists the same plate number as a real temporary tag that was issued in September 2022, according to Arizona DOT spokesman Bill Lamoreaux. But that real tag expired in December 2022, meaning the tag in Paladino’s driveway, which somehow lists an August 2023 expiration date, is "fraudulent," Lamoreaux said.

Paladino said the car belongs to her son, Thomas Paladino Jr., but did not otherwise respond to a request to comment.

After this story posted, Paladino tweeted that the fake temp tag was merely "expired." But that appears not to be true. The tag spotted by Streetsblog listed an August 2023 expiration date, even though the real tag with the same plate number expired in December 2022. There is no way to extend an Arizona 90-day non-resident permit, according to Lamoreaux, which suggests that the tag on Paladino's car was a forgery.

The younger Paladino, who has served as a spokesman and adviser for his mother, initially told Streetsblog that the car “came with a temporary plate,” but he later denied knowledge of the fraudulent tag. He declined to provide further details about how he acquired the tag or car, an Aston Martin.

"I don’t know anything about a fraudulent temporary license plate," he said. "I have more than one car, all of which are properly licensed."

The plate is one of many so-called "ghost tags" that have inundated the city since the start of the pandemic. Paper license plates are illegal to acquire without buying or leasing a car, but they’re in wide supply on the black market, enabling drivers to evade accountability on the road, a Streetsblog investigation found. Motorists use them for cover while driving without car insurance, skirting the costs of car ownership or committing more serious crimes with their identities concealed.

But few ghost tags are likely linked so closely to a lawmaker like Vickie Paladino, a pugnacious Republican who has emphasized law and order more than any other issue during her campaigns and time in office. Rachael Fauss, senior policy advisor of the good-government group Reinvent Albany, said the fake license plate in Paladino’s driveway undermined that message.

“Council members write the laws of New York City” she said. “The public should rightfully be upset when they appear to be breaking the laws that they should be upholding.”

Paladino Jr. told Streetsblog that he has never driven the car on a public street. But he declined to explain a photograph from March that appears to show him standing next to the car on a public street outside his mother’s district office in Whitestone. The photograph was provided to Streetsblog by a Whitestone resident who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. The car had a temporary license plate at that time as well, the resident said.

Thomas Paladino Jr. with the Aston Martin in March.

The same resident provided photographs apparently showing Paladino Jr. with the pricey sports car on a Whitestone street in May — an Arizona temporary license plate tacked to bumper.

Another person familiar with Paladino Jr. confirmed that he is pictured in the photos from March and May.

The fake temporary tag on the Aston Martin in May.

The car appears to be an Aston Martin Vantage from around 2008, according to a local Aston Martin salesman who asked not to be named. Cars of that make, model and year sell for upwards of $40,000 in online car marketplaces. For a New York City buyer, that would mean sales taxes of $3,500 or more. But that buyer could avoid the tax by keeping the car unregistered.

The legitimate Arizona temporary tag in question was issued to a 2008 Aston Martin in New York, said Lamoreaux, the Arizona DOT spokesman.

Paladino Jr. said his car has been registered but did not respond to a request to provide supporting documentation.

Meanwhile, license plates registered to Thomas Paladino Sr., the Council member’s husband, have allegedly accumulated more than $12,000 in unpaid traffic and parking tickets, at least 19 of which were issued near the Council member’s district office, legal records and city data show. The unpaid tickets are referenced in a lawsuit filed in April against Thomas Paladino Sr. as part of a foreclosure proceeding on the Paladinos’ home — where Streetsblog saw the Aston Martin last week.

Paladino Sr. did not respond to a request for comment.

Paladino Jr. has attracted scrutiny in the past for his inflammatory activity on social media. In 2018, Gothamist reported on his posts on the far-right online social network Gab, where he complained about Chicago's "Evil Jewish Mayor's Anti police policies," implied that Africans were “savages” and encouraged followers to “buy ammo” to defend against Democrats.  (Paladino Jr. Later defended those posts, telling the Queens Chronicle that he opposes white supremacy, antisemitism and the alt-right.)

As a Council member since last year, Vickie Paladino has inveighed against lawlessness on city streets. She has complained on Twitter about “ATV gangs” and “biker gangs” on unregistered vehicles. She is co-sponsoring two bills pending in the Council that would create or increase fines for buyers and sellers of fake temporary tags. And in an op-ed for Streetsblog earlier this year, she criticized traffic-enforcement cameras in part because they are “easily defeated by criminals who either conceal their plate or use fraudulent plates.”

She added: “The only solution to this, of course, is old-fashioned law enforcement.”

Drivers caught using fake paper license plates in the city are commonly charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument in the third degree, a misdemeanor that can carry up to a year in prison. Vickie Paladino did not respond to a question about whether she believes her son should be charged criminally for his fake license plate.

Streetsblog looked for the car again on Friday, but by then the only car parked in the driveway was concealed under a cover — the license plate hidden from view.

The Aston Martin and its fake temp tag had been concealed from view at the Paladino household by Friday. Photo: Jeenah Moon

This story has been updated to add a comment from Vickie Paladino and context for her comment.

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