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Police Misconduct

Why Did a DMV Supervisor Advise a Cop to Break the Law and Commit License Plate Fraud?

A police officer was fired from his position after following the advice of the Department of Motor Vehicles to turn his personal car into a "ghost vehicle."

3:00 PM EDT on September 11, 2023

Montage: Gersh Kuntzman|

All cops do it, so of course Adrian DeJesus did, too.

The Department of Motor Vehicles is in it!

A police officer was fired from his position earlier this year after following the advice of a supervisor at the state Department of Motor Vehicles to turn his personal car into a "ghost vehicle" — an allegation that, if true, raises serious questions about the integrity of the government agency whose main job is to make sure vehicles are properly registered.

Sgt. Adrian DeJesus was fired by then-NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell earlier this year, according to a ruling quietly posted online on Friday, in part because DeJesus kept driving to and from the 123rd Precinct despite having invalid license plates. He claimed a DMV supervisor told him to do so "since he was a police officer no one would question him," Sewell said in her finding.

It's unclear if the DMV supervisor was right; after all, DeJesus was fired for a number of serious departmental violations, not only the license plate fraud, which had been covered last year by the Staten Island Advance. But the charge against him was serious enough for Sewell to cite it in her dismissal notification.

The story begins in 2020 when DeJesus claimed he was going through a difficult divorce and became "deeply depressed" at the loss of time with his kids. He started binge drinking and eating, and his judgment was "clouded," he said, adding that he stopped caring about basic things in his life and his profession.

That judgment was certainly overcast when he started showing up — during the day, in uniform, and while on duty — at a sports bar next to the Annandale station that was placed off-limits to NYPD personnel. He claimed he didn't drink there, but on one occasion in March 2022, he engaged in "egregious and horrible" behavior with two women when they asked how they could buy "good smoke" and "pills." The women turned out to be NYPD undercovers conducting an integrity sting.

DeJesus was stung, but likely didn't know it yet because in June of that year, he was caught at a New Jersey bar with friends after calling in sick from his NYPD job, a major no-no.

DeJesus then allowed his car registration to expire because he "had difficulty paying attention to things while going through his divorce." When he got a call from DMV, he rushed to a local office "to rectify the situation, since he needed his car to drive to and from work, and to pick up his kids from school," Sewell said in her ruling, which confirmed the finding of an NYPD judge.

The DMV supervisor rightly told him that he needed to surrender his plates — and that he wouldn't get new ones for three months. When DeJesus told the supervisor that he was a police officer and being car-less would apparently be a "hardship," she suggested "that since he was a police officer no one would question him if he just surrendered one plate, reported the other one as lost, and used that second plate to continue driving his automobile," Sewell summarized.

DeJesus said he realized this was wrong and "ridiculous" — but admitted to doing it anyway, crying on the witness stand as he fought to retain his job. He ended up reporting to DMV that one of the plates was lost, and then put a counterfeit plate — ordered from Amazon — on the front of his car so he could continue driving back and forth between his Brooklyn home and his Staten Island precinct.

DeJesus was later charged with a misdemeanor in the fake license plate case, even though it's a felony, Sewell said. He said he would plead guilty, but court records show that, in fact, he pleaded not guilty last month.

DeJesus "flagrantly and repeatedly disregarded the rules and regulations of the Department [and] termination is the appropriate penalty here," Sewell wrote, emphasizing that DeJesus "broke the law in connection with the counterfeit license plate." (Though not part of this case, DeJesus also beat a man in a Manhattan holding cell in October 2022 and failed to report it. DeJesus had been reassigned to Manhattan Central Book while under investigation in the license plate/day-drinking/pot-dealer-recommending case.)

The Department of Motor Vehicles did not respond to an email seeking comment, so it's unclear if DeJesus was telling the truth when he testified under oath about the advice to break the law that he allegedly received from a DMV supervisor.

But Noah McClain, a former investigator of police misconduct for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said the DMV officer's actions are ultimately not the story here.

"I can't fathom what DMV staff would do, but I think we should pay attention that the NYPD judge, who spends his time hearing testimony immersed in the world of NYPD police — their operations, their culture, their interactions with public — found it plausible that a DMV supervisor might have suggested DeJesus report a plate missing, and keep driving with it," said McClain, now a sociologist teaching at Santa Clara University in California.

"That should tell us volumes about the undue deference given to police, whether true in this case."

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