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Legislation Introduced in Georgia to Fight Temporary License Plate Fraud

The bill is the most significant effort yet to stop the flow of fraudulent paper tags from Georgia car dealerships to New York City streets.

Illustration: Martin Schapiro

A Georgia lawmaker has introduced legislation to combat the underground economy for the state's temporary license plates, which have flooded New York City in recent years as dangerous drivers use them to avoid accountability on the road.

The bill by Rep. John Corbett, chairman of the Georgia House of Representatives Motor Vehicles Committee, seeks to thwart this illicit trade by making it harder for out-of-state residents to open sham dealerships in Georgia in order to gain access to the state's temporary tags, which sell for upwards of $100 on the black market.

The proposed reforms follow a seven-month Streetsblog investigation that found widespread fraud involving temporary license plates, with New Yorkers abusing weak regulations in Georgia and New Jersey to sell huge numbers of temporary tags from those states in the five boroughs. The New Jersey state legislature unanimously approved sweeping reforms to the state's temporary tag system last month. In Georgia, Corbett's proposal is the most significant effort yet to address the issue.

Corbett did not respond to requests for comment. Shortly after Streetsblog's investigation, the south Georgia lawmaker told Streetsblog he planned to introduce legislation on the problem. He has held multiple legislative hearings on the topic, including one in December in which he acknowledged Georgia had a "huge issue" with its temporary tags "being abused."

Central to the proposed reforms would be a requirement that all used car dealers in the state have space to display at least five vehicles. The state currently has no minimum requirement for vehicle display space, which enables property owners to parcel commercial buildings into dozens or even hundreds of tiny offices and rent them to absentee dealers from out of state. Some of those properties have little space to actually display cars for sale.

Streetsblog found such facilities to be a significant source of fraudulent temporary tags. At one such address — a remote warehouse in west Georgia —Streetsblog identified four car dealerships that issued more than 28,000 temporary tags in 2022 while displaying no other discernible business activity. At least two of those dealerships were operated by New Yorkers, Streetsblog found.

One was Jefrey Herrera, a Yonkers resident whose Georgia dealership, Herrera Auto Group, had no online inventory, online reviews or presence on Google Maps, but issued more than 20,000 temporary tags in seven months — worth millions of dollars on the black market.

Herrera did not respond to a request for comment. He previously denied to Streetsblog that he had sold tags illegally.

Corbett's bill would also distinguish used car dealers from car brokers — who negotiate car sales instead of selling cars themselves — and limit them to 50 temporary tags each year unless they can prove substantial business activity. Brokers would also have to prove that they negotiate five car sales each year to keep their licenses. Perhaps most significantly, brokers would need Georgia driver's licenses to issue temporary tags.

These changes could deal a blow to the cottage industry in the five boroughs that has helped New Yorkers obtain Georgia dealership credentials.

"Turn-key RETAIL/WHOLESALE Used Car Dealers License w/ 3 Dealer Plates - $1,599," reads one ad recently posted on Craigslist in Brooklyn. "Fully licensed in as little as 21 days."

Corbett's bill also states that the Department of Revenue, which oversees car dealers in Georgia, could suspend dealers' access to the state system for printing temporary tags, fine them and suspend or revoke their licenses for issuing tags illegally. It's not clear, however, how novel those provisions actually are, as the department has already fined and shut down dealers for temporary tag fraud. Neither Corbett nor Department of Revenue Spokesman Austin Gibbons responded to requests to clarify those provisions.

Where industry groups stand on the bill is similarly unclear. The Georgia Independent Automobile Dealers Association, a trade group representing the state's used car dealers, did not respond to a request for comment. Ben Jordan of the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association, which represents new car dealers, referred Streetsblog to his comments at the December hearing, in which he said the group wants "to help close the loopholes that we see in the law that have allowed all of this fraud and abuse to take place" while not "imposing undue burdens on legitimate new or used car dealerships."

New York City Councilman Oswald Feliz has also introduced two bills on the issue. Feliz said Friday the legislation, which would create or increase fines on people caught selling or driving with fraudulent temporary tags, remains a "big priority" for him.

"We must use all tools to deter this reckless conduct," he said.

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