RALEIGH, N.C. -— State investigators have found nearly 1,000 vehicles that may have been misclassified as antiques, a special title that can save owners hundreds of dollars in taxes and make the vehicle more valuable.
State Department of Motor Vehicle officials began their three-month investigation into the title files amid allegations that former department commissioner George Tatum helped a friend get a vintage truck title for a replica 1937 Ford truck. Tatum resigned in July, and he called for a review of his agency’s procedures for issuing vintage vehicle titles before leaving office.
DMV records show that Tatum’s administrative assistant sent an e-mail to staff indicating Robert Kinlaw, of Fayetteville, needed help getting an antique title for his truck. Tatum has denied helping Kinlaw.
During its investigation, the DMV said it reviewed more than 100,000 title records and discovered around 900 vehicles that were given vintage titles based on documents from an Alabama company known for selling titles.
“When we got into it, we realized there was a disconnect,’’ Tatum told The Fayetteville Observer. ``I don’t think anybody was breaking the law; there were just flaws in the process.’’
Officials declined to release the company’s name, but said it likely operates like a Birmingham company investigated by California officials in 2003.
``We have been victimized by titling services out of Alabama,’’ said Brian Bozard, a supervisor in the DMV’s License and Theft Bureau. ``It has turned into a criminal investigation.’’
Bozard said the investigation, which began after The News & Observer of Raleigh questioned Kinlaw’s title, found that problems with improperly titled replicas began before Tatum took office.
Officials have ordered Kinlaw to return the vintage title and have issued him a new title for a 2004 custom-built vehicle, which demands roughly $1,300 more in highway use taxes. Department spokeswoman Marge Howell also said Kinlaw is also surrendering a vintage title for a second vehicle that had been certified as a genuine 1932 Ford.