Saturday, May 26, 2007

What Kind of Loser Would Want My Identity?

I've been trying for two weeks, without success, to come up with a humorous angle on this story so bear with me.

Yes, my identity was stolen.

Yes, the consequences have been relatively minor.

Yes, I'm pissed as hell and want to have the guy strung up by his scrotum in a junkyard filled with hungry, snarling Rottweilers.

And I would prescribe a more torturous fate for the long line of bureaucrats and political flunkies who could have helped at any point along the line, but chose to do nothing other than suggest that I "pay the two dollars."

Well, it's not two dollars. And while $750 may represent small potatoes to New York City's esteemed billionare-in-chief... THEY'RE MY POTATOES!!!

In case you're wondering, Mayor Mikey is one of the political flunkies who chose to do nothing, along with Betsy (uggghhh) Gotbaum, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Parking Violations Bureau and the City Marshall, one particularly heinous dirtbag named Richard Capuano.

So let's begin at the beginning.

It all started with the tribulations of a very old and tired 1990 Mazda 626. As jalopies go, this one would have long ago been rolled off a cliff by Wally Cleaver and Lumpy Rutherford, but it was perfect for ferrying fishing gear and gardening supplies and those periodic trips to the town dump. Then, in June of 2005, it reached the tipping point, as the Global Warming kooks like to say.

Like the old hermit living in the Arizona desert spitting out teeth as he walked, Ol' Mazie was dropping parts along the street at an alarming rate. When the brakes failed to slow its momentum at 5 MPH, it was time to put her to sleep. Even driving to the junkyard less than a mile away was more risk than I was willing to take, so I called Stevie the Junk Man and he showed up ten minutes later with his flatbed. Off came the plates and away went the car. Good riddance, you say, but I still wiped away a tear as it disappeared around the bend.

Like a good little boy I went to DMV and surrendered the plates. I love that expression. Imagine crawling up to the DMV dimwit waving a white flag with one hand and sheepishly "surrendering" the plates with the other. Then, with my receipt in hand, I returned home confident that I had fulfilled my civic duty. My thoroughness was rewarded a few weeks later when I received a refund check from the Comptroller of the State of New York for the unused balance of my registration fee.

What a windfall!

Then, in September of 2005 I received a cordial letter from the NYC Parking Violations Bureau informing me that I had failed to pay a parking ticket that was issued in August, 2005.

The summons was issued at the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and 94th Avenue in Jamaica.

Now, it's not that I have anything against Sutphin Boulevard or Jamaica. It's just that since Gertz, Robert Hall and the Valencia Theater closed more than thirty years ago, I have no reason at all to go there. Yes, I did take my father-in-law to the ER in Jamaica Hospital. I remember the incident because one of the "patients" took the ER nurse hostage at knifepoint. But that was still many years ago.

A quick phone call, I thought, would resolve the issue. WRONG!

The genius on the other end of the line suggested that I pay the fine and be done with it.

"Yes," I answered, "but it will never end because whoever is doing this will continue doing it." And continue he did. A letter to the mayor's office resulted in zero action, not even a reply telling me how busy Hizzoner is. At least Senator Moynihan had the decency to tell me he couldn't be bothered with my petty problem. He had a book to finish. Mind you, my petty problem was that my wife and child were stranded in a third-world country in the middle of a terrorist war, but the senator was busy writing his tenth book in his tenth year in the Senate. That's the ticket, become a United States Senator, cure writer's block (and banish those pesky rejection letters).

So on and on it went. I wrote to the Public Advocate (HAH!!!) explaining my problem: tickets on a car I no longer own. Two weeks later I get a phone call from Ms. James of the Public Advocate's office. I explained my problem again: tickets on a car I no longer own. Two weeks after that Ms. James calls back and says she's very sorry, but there's nothing her office can do.

"Do you know you have parking tickets?", she queried.

Excuse me, Ms. James. I have to scrape the top of my skull off the ceiling because MY HEAD JUST EXPLODED!

More phone calls. More letters. And still no action, until the fines, penalties, and ultimately the towing charges reached $750. Yes, I said towing charges. The Missus came out of school two weeks ago to find "our car had been stolen." A quick check confirmed that rather than car theft, this identity theft resulted in the towing and impoundment of my cherished 1995 BMW, a car that has a completely clean record.

Would that I were so lucky.

The next day, armed with all the relevant documentation I trudged down to the NYC Department of Finance/Parking Violations Bureau, curiously located on 94th Avenue just off Sutphin Boulevard. I should have recognized this as a clue, but I shrugged it off as a coincidence. More bureacratic mumbo jumbo. More gov-speak.

"Do you have documentary evidence?" asked the Senior Judge.

I showed him the receipt for the plates. "Anything else?" he continued. I showed him the stub from the refund check issued by the Comptroller of the State of New York. "That's still not enough. How about a letter from your insurance company indicating that you terminated the insurance on this car?"

Quick as a flash I got on the cell phone. The rep from GEICO printed the letter and faxed it to a nearby Kinko's. Breathlessly I submitted the final document to the Senior Judge.

"What about the bill of sale from the junkyard?"

The inferno roaring from my ears set off every smoke alarm in the building.

Several images began floating through my mind giving me the premonition that this episode would not have a happy ending. That's when I paid the $750, went to the Marshall's office in Rego Park, got the release, and then traveled to Whitestone to get my car out of hock.

My interaction with the fat bastard wearing the Yankee cap behind the bullet-proof glass in the Marshall's office I'll leave for a subsequent blog.

So, what had happened? Simple.

One hour of amateur sleuthing on my part revealed that a gentlemen living in close proximity to Stevie's Junkyard saw the Mazda sitting out front and offered to buy it, as is. He then put a set of stolen plates on the car and drove it for another year without registration or insurance. Then he registered the car in his own name and drove it for yet another year, racking up nine additional unpaid parking tickets. Since the car was not registered for a year the geniuses who wrote the tickets simply entered the VIN and let the computer do the rest of the work.

Apparently the computers at the DMV do not speak to the computers at the PVB which do not speak to the computers in the New York State Comptrollers office. Never did any of them take notice that the car and the plates did not match.

My only solace is that this fraud was committed by a corrupt slug, not an illegal immigrant from Yemen who stuffed it full of fertilizer and heating oil. Rather than paying to get my car out of the pound, I'd now be reading the Koran at Gitmo.

And what about the Sutphin Boulevard connection? Not only is the perpetrator of this fraud an investigator for the law firm that represents the Department of Motor Vehicles, this guy has the castagnas to go to PVB in Jamaica (94th and Sutphin) and contest the tickets while posing as me... and then he gets another ticket while he's there!!!

I have to show my photo ID to buy beer at the self checkout at Stop 'n Shop, but this guy has a formal hearing in front of a government magistrate and never has to show any proof that he is who he says he is.

This, of course, fills me with confidence in this post 9-11 world.

Especially when I see the livery drivers out every morning switching plates from one Crown Victoria to another.

But there's more to this story, because I'm not letting this one go.

Stay tuned.