In a federal court in Houston last week, a man named Octavian Ocasio was sentenced to 53 months in prison, followed by three years of parole. Ocasio used to call himself the “Used Car King of New York.” But two years ago, FBI agents arrested him at a Long Island Buffalo Wild Wings, and he was charged with fraud.
Ocasio pled guilty to fraudulently ordering and selling Texas temporary buyer tags – those paper license plates that have become a much more common sight in recent years. Jonathan Limehouse, federal court reporter for the Houston Chronicle, spoke to the Texas Standard about the significance of the case.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit more about these about these crimes Ocasio is accused of. How big of an operation was this?
Jonathan Limehouse: It was a big operation. Him and his coconspirators are accused of creating more than 700,000 fake temporary Texas buyer tags.
I know this has been a real issue here in Texas, but first, I want to get something out of the way, because the geography is not adding up for me. Ocasio was in New York, right? What’s the Texas connection here? Why was he running this scam for Texas plates?
So his coconspirators all live in the Houston area. With these paper plates, you know, he created fake car dealerships in Texas.
You have to have a certain license to create these dealerships. So they got these licenses, and they pretty much issued these plates fraudulently without actually selling any vehicles, if that makes sense. So they were issuing these plates, but they weren’t selling anything.
So, in other words, the scam went: The operation would set up fake dealerships; the fake dealerships would – I presume, by computer – apply for paper tags, which could be printed out locally. And then those tags would be sold on the black market, online, that sort of thing?
Correct. But Texas is just an easy state to con people in and turn with this scheme. So for him to link up with other coconspirators in Texas to create this scheme and do this just was a no-brainer.
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So when you talk about the ease of scamming these plates, how did it used to be before the law changed? What was it that made faking Texas tags – paper tags – so easy?
Because a lot of states don’t even use paper tags anymore. Texas is one of the few states to still use them and still able to give them out. So Texas was an easier state opposed to other states to doing this scheme.
Well, you mentioned policymakers in Texas have tried to make it harder to obtain these tags, right? What exactly have they done that changes the status quo?
So with this new law that Governor [Greg] Abbott signed, car dealers will have a better allotment of metal plates that they can issue when selling a vehicle, as opposed to these tags. So these car dealers will have more metal plates now opposed to before, where they only could use the paper.
So it’s the metal plates that will have to be physically attached to cars that are newly sold?
So should we expect to see fewer paper tags out there on the road because of this case and others like it? Too early to say? What do you think?
Oh, I definitely think so. I think, you know, in the next couple of years, paper tags in Texas pretty much won’t exist – or if they do, they will be illegal. So I think going forward, it’ll be a lot more metal and a lot less paper.