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Someone is Driving with a Defaced Plate — And Sticking a Staten Island Man with the Bill

12:01 AM EDT on August 17, 2023

Here’s the green Acura that is being hit with tickets and tolls because someone else doctored his plate. Photo: Brett Roses with help from the Streetsblog Photoshop Desk

The scourge of fraudulent and defaced license plates in New York City doesn't just make it harder for the MTA to collect revenue or for police to find out who blew up a war memorial with their car. It also sticks regular people with toll charges and tickets they didn't actually amass.

Brett Roses, a Staten Island resident, has been dealing with charges on his EZ-Pass account and tickets to his home because toll cameras are reading a partially covered plate as one associated with one of his cars, a 2002 green Acura. Roses's license New York plate read KZX3321 while the car that he's getting billed for is a white BMW with a plate that is supposed to read KZX8321 — except that its the driver put a piece of tape over the "8" to make it look like a "3."

Roses said that he began noticing mysterious charges on his account even though, he says, his Acura has never been driven off of Staten Island. He began a cycle of disputing the charges, having EZ-Pass refund his account, only to wind up taking that money out of the account again to pay for the fraudulent tolls.

Eventually Roses got a ticket from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority for non-payment of a toll, and when he saw a car with his exact license plate he sought some answers from the DMV.

A ticket from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority showing the illegally tampered-with license plate that looks like Roses's license.

"I went to the DMV thinking maybe they registered two cars with the same plate, because in the picture, it actually does look a lot like a 3," he said. "He put a piece of white tape on the left side of the 8 to make it look like a 3. A lady at the DMV looked through the system and told me it was an 8."

Roses's only solution at this point, he says, would be to re-register his Acura at a cost of $210, a costly fix that he doesn't want to do.

Roses was able to find out that the BMW was registered to a Steven Cheng, a 25-year-old Long Island resident who registered the car at his father's house. Roses said Cheng's father was uncooperative when he reached out about the license plate issue, and Roses hasn't been able to get any closure on the situation from either EZ-Pass or even the NYPD, whose investigating officers told Roses to take his complaint to small claims court.

"If he's tampering with a license plate, I would think that that would be a criminal offense. He's not just stealing money from me, he's stealing money from the city. But [the police] didn't really look into it at all, they just called the dad told him to stop, thought that that was it and then they closed the case," he said.

Right now, driving with an intentionally tampered with license plate is punishable by a fine between $50 and $300. Gov. Hochul included a provision in her 2024 budget that would have specifically made driving through a toll zone with an intentionally tampered with license plate a crime punishable by a fine between $100 and $500, but the idea didn't make it through the yearly budget negotiations.

Streetsblog reached out to the MTA for a comment on the situation, and an agency spokesperson said that once the situation was brought to the agency's attention, the MTA was able to refund Roses and properly toll the scofflaw with the intentionally defaced license plate.

That's great news for Roses, but hardly an efficient system for properly tracking and charging scofflaw drivers ... especially when congestion pricing begins next year and more license plates are expected to show up at gantries along 60th Street.

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