Chapel Hill license plate agency office closes after possible law violations

Photo of the closed office by Justin Quesinberry/CBS North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — The recent closure of the license plate agency in Chapel Hill is not the first time the state DMV has shut down an office for possible wrongdoing – not even the first time in Chapel Hill.

The office closed last week and signs at the office direct customers to other locations in Durham.

“Very inconvenient,” said Theresa West of Efland.

“Lots of frustration out here,” said Allan Green of Hillsborough.

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Signs on the door do not explain why the office closed.

“I kind of want to know what happened,” said David Maynard of Chapel Hill.

The Department of Motor Vehicles is offering no concrete explanations – simply that it shut down due to “possible violations of state laws.”

“I’m very concerned with the lack of information — you don’t know what’s going on,” West said.

According to the DMV, its License and Theft Bureau is investigating after an anonymous tip.

“It makes me wonder about what kind of oversight our state of this particular kind of facility,” said Green.

Contractors operate the state’s license plate offices.

“Just because they are contractors, I knew there could be some fraud and potential other things that aren’t quite legal possibly going on,” West said.

Some customers expressed concern to CBS North Carolina that the investigation could potentially involve their taxpayer money.

“Yeah, that’s a big deal, especially when we do pay a lot in taxes in this area,” Maynard said.

The office on East Franklin Street in Gateway Commons opened in 2013 after the state shut down a different location on West Estes Drive in Chapel Hill in 2012 under similar circumstances. In that case, the state pointed to inappropriate activities, including accounting irregularities.

“I thought ‘Oh no, not again’,” West said, remembering the issues with the former location.

The state also closed a Stokes County office in 2015 as it looked into falsifying documents and a Vance County location in 2014 for alleged accounting irregularities.

“It’s surprising that we can’t seem to get it right. There must be a lot of easy money to be made. That’s my conclusion,” Green said.

CBS North Carolina asked Green if he thought the state should look at a different way of operating the offices. He said, “That seems to be pretty obvious.”

DMV communications officer John Brockwell said there is no consideration for a change, based on the state law.

CBS North Carolina asked him what oversight the state provides.

He said, “DMV provides all inventory for license plate agencies, provides training to all agency employees, provides IT services to the agency and conducts regular audits of the agency.”

Brockwell said at some point the DMV will begin the process of accepting applications from possible contractors to operate a license plate agency in Orange County.

That process application period will last 30 days.

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