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It isn’t every day someone comes up with a plan as creative as this one, dubbed “The Plate Plan.” Check out Melvin Harmon’s story, where he came up with a vehicle registration scheme that netted him just over $119,359 before he got caught. The new car registration fraud took place in just under two years but was quite lucrative.

This vehicle registration fraud scheme had a good name but didn’t last very long

The $119,359 vehicle registration fraud scheme called "The Plate Plan"
The vehicle registration of a Volkswagen Passat | Thomas Muncke/picture alliance via Getty Images

According to the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Missouri, this story starts in St. Louis. Melvin Harmon cooked up this idea to help Missouri residents register new cars in a different state as it was cheaper. Harmon worked at an office in Granite City, Illinois, that assisted drivers with vehicle registration for the State of Illinois Secretary of State.

Due to his job, he had access to obtain motor vehicle registrations in other states. Harmon would charge residents of Missouri between $350 and $700 to register the cars in Illinois fraudulently. Since Missouri has higher taxes, this helped people avoid paying those taxes by registering the vehicle elsewhere.

After that, Harmon would change the price of the vehicles to reduce payments to the state. This would result in fewer fees paid for both the car and insurance. He made money, the people saved money, and everyone was happy until someone at the government caught on to the plan and noticed some discrepancies in the case.

This vehicle registration fraud cost the state more than $300,000

Through the course of his scheme, Harmon registered almost 400 vehicles in Illinois for Missouri residents. The state of Missouri says that the lost revenue of these vehicle registrations and fees was estimated to be over $300,000 when all was said and done.

According to a later update from the Department of Justice, Harmon advertised his vehicle registration services on flyers around St. Louis. On the flyers, Harmon called himself “The Plate Man,” and thus, “The Plate Plan” was born.

When he was first charged, the state hit Harmon with six felony counts. According to the Department of Justice, these included “conspiracy to defraud the United States; mail fraud; and interstate transportation of falsely made motor vehicle titles,” according to the Department of Justice. In total, that could amount to 20 years of imprisonment and a potential fine of $250,000 per count. That’s far more than he made.

Harmon was found guilty and had to pay all of the money back

The federal jury found Mr. Harmon guilty of five out of the six counts related to the vehicle registration scheme. The Missouri Department of Revenue-Compliance and Investigation Bureau and the State of Illinois Secretary of State Police worked together on the case. He was ordered to pay back $119,359.92 in restitution and was charged with “conspiracy to defraud the United States and mail fraud.” The Plate Man was also sentenced to 33 months of incarceration.

While this was a creative way to get around expensive vehicle registration fees, it also wasn’t very good. With everything happening online these days, it was only a matter of time before someone caught on.


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