Law enforcement cracks down on inspection sticker fraud - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Law enforcement cracks down on inspection sticker fraud

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A FOX 4 investigation into inspection sticker fraud recently triggered another bust in Tarrant County, where the Emissions Task Force raided a north side automotive shop -- the second one in recent months.

Sticker fraud is a $14 million enterprise in Tarrant County. It affects all drivers on the road, and that's why the sheriff is hitting the issue hard.

William Chandler thought he was getting a good deal when he purchased a used Ford Focus for his family.

"It was clean in and out," Chandler said. The vehicle had just been inspected, but four days later, it died.

So Chandler took the car to the Ford dealership, where he learned the car's entire instrument panel had been disconnected, so there was no check engine light coming on. There were all sorts of electrical and engine problems, and it would cost more than $3,000 to fix the issues.

"There was no way this car could have passed an inspection," Chandler said.

But the sticker showed it did pass, just days prior at Carranza Automotive in Fort Worth, a shop also called C4.

Records show C4 does more than 100 inspections every month, but those same records also show that C4 is doing what's called clean scans, where a dummy vehicle is used to generate stickers for other cars.

Here is what's key: there is an electronic vehicle identification number, or E-VIN, on the inside of your car door. When the barcode is scanned, it sends all of your car's information to the state's computer system.

When a car is inspected, that E-VIN must match the VIN that is manually put into the system for the car getting the sticker.

Every car made after 2006 must have an E-VIN recorded; that's the law.

But C4's records show dozens and dozens of vehicles inspected during the past 12 months missing the E-VIN, like a 2010 Dodge, a 2010 Malibu and a 2010 Caravan. Not one had the E-VIN reported.

An entire page of 2008 vehicles is blank. There are no E-VINS. That is more than 30 cars, and dozens more from 2007 are all missing the E-VIN.

"Our computers have known they have been scanning hundreds and hundreds of cars illegally," Sheriff Dee Anderson said.

Sheriff Anderson isn't messing around with clean scans. 

When FOX 4 started asking questions, the Emissions Task Force raided C4 and busted the technicians accused of doing the work. They also raided two other shops tied to C4, confiscating tens of thousands of dollars of emissions equipment and hauling off the suspects.

"The people are willing to take the risk of going to jail," Sheriff Anderson said. "It is so lucrative with what they can get per day, per week, per month doing these scans."

The arrest affidavit accuses Jose Calderon and David Camacho of using a surrogate vehicle to do clean scans. It says between the two shops, they conducted more than 600 inspections in two months, and the majority was fraudulent.

Last month, FOX 4 aired a story about Marco Hernandez, who was also busted for clean scanning.  FOX 4 watched MGN, and never saw any cars move in or out of the shop. A Kia Spectra just sat there while the technician moved around.

Cops believe the shop conducted 176 illegal inspections in just one month.

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of vehicles in the Metroplex are driving around with fraudulent inspection stickers; about one in six cars.

Those vehicles may be downright dangerous, with bad brakes or no tail lights, not to mention the junk they spew into the air.

The Dallas Task Force is also hitting the issue hard, busting a group for doing clean scans. They shut down their inspection business and confiscated all of their equipment. 

Alberto Lara has been charged with tampering with a government record.

Back in Tarrant County, William Chandler is fuming over his recent purchase.

"I have a wife and kids," he said.

The people who often pay the price are the ones who can least afford it.

"I don't have the money to buy another vehicle," Chandler said.  "I thought I was getting a good deal, but it has been anything but." 

Sheriff Anderson wants it to stop, and he's sending a message loud and clear.

"It is so widespread," said Anderson. "We're really just trying to hit them as fast as humanly possible. If you are going to continue to do this, you'll be next. We will show up just like we did today, and we will find you and put you in jail."

Jose Calderon and David Camacho face charges of tampering with a government record, which is a felony. They face possible prison time and hefty fines. 

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