VIRGINIA BEACH-- Virginia State Police have made a break in a two-year investigation into the manufacturing and selling of fake vehicle inspection stickers.
Trooper Mark Bailey says a person who is a "major player" in creating fake inspection stickers has been identified and an indictment should be handed down very soon.
The announcement comes on the heels of two recent arrests.
In March, police arrested Fred Lawrence Banks of the 100 block of Regency Square in Newport News and charged him with forging public documents, fraudulent use of or maintaining of a state seal and counterfeit inspection sticker.
Last month, Shaabani DeKattu pleaded guilty to forgery of a public record and forging an official seal in Virginia Beach. DeKattu received a three-month suspended prison sentence.
Trooper Bailey says the three suspects are responsible for thousands of fake stickers. "I would say minimum, 10,000 stickers," said Bailey.
Bailey says it is easy to get fooled by a fake inspection sticker. People should pay attention to the color. Many of the fake ones are faded or the font is darker or bolder than a real one. The real stickers have a squiggly line almost right down the middle.
The technology to manufacture the stickers has gotten very sophisticated. He warns motorists to never purchase a sticker from someone outside an official inspection station.
Bailey says police identified Ocean View and the Virginia Beach Oceanfront as areas where many of the stickers are being created.
A fake sticker caught ODU student Scott Hoffman off-guard. Last September, Hoffman bought a 1993 Crown Victoria after responding to an ad he saw on Craigslist. He says the seller told him he wouldn't have to worry about an inspection until July 2013. But in April, after leaving a Tides game at Harbor Park, an officer noticed the fake sticker on his car and pulled him over.
"He peeled it off and said it was a counterfeit inspection. I asked him, 'How am I supposed to know that,'" says Hoffman.
Suddenly, Hoffman found himself facing a misdemeanor charge and traffic ticket that could cost $600 in fines. That really worried Hoffman and his twin, Evan.
"People like us, we're college students. We're trying to make student loans," said Hoffman.
To make matters worse, when Hoffman took the vehicle to an official inspection station to have it inspected, it failed. The mechanic cited numerous problems, from bad brakes to a faulty exhaust system. Repairs would be at least $3,000, which is nearly $2,000 more than he paid for the car. That's when he decided to sell it to a junkyard.
The 13News Troubleshooters contacted the seller of the car, who says he has no idea where the fraudulent sticker came from. He says he bought the car from an auction at Naval Station Norfolk and the sticker was already on the vehicle.
Navy spokesperson Terry Davis says all stickers are removed from vehicles before they are sold.
Hoffman went to court for his charges and was able to convince the judge that he wasn't at fault and the charges were dropped. However, he still doesn't have a car.
Bailey does not believe Hoffman's case is related to any of the recent suspects, but hopes public awareness can help direct police to other criminals.