During a time of budget cuts and layoffs, officials with the Broward County Clerk's Office are under scrutiny. They're accused of altering traffic records in order to turn old traffic tickets into cash.
The NBC 6 Investigators first uncovered the problem in November while looking into a suspension notice one man received in the mail. Since breaking the story, we’ve discovered thousands of drivers had their licenses wrongfully suspended which has caused the state agency in charge of your driver’s license in Tallahassee to launch a massive statewide investigation of their own. The results of that investigation are expected to be released soon.
Wrongfully Suspended Licenses
Some drivers who live across South Florida, from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, received final notices in their mailboxes from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). The letters ordered the drivers to pay for a citation or get their licenses suspended in a matter of weeks.
However, most of the drivers told the NBC 6 Investigators they didn’t remember getting pulled over by police.
"I never received anything,” said driver Wanda Cuadrado. "I don’t remember having a ticket, if I get a ticket I pay for it,” she said.
After digging into the citations, the NBC 6 Investigators discovered the tickets were from at least 15 years ago. All of the citations were for minor traffic infractions like speeding or making an illegal U-turn.
But a spokesperson with FLHSMV said you shouldn’t have your license suspended for minor traffic violation that happened more than seven years ago.
Ticket Dates Altered
After reviewing what NBC 6 brought to their attention, a spokesperson with the FLHSMV said someone who works inside the Broward County Clerk's Office changed the dates on the tickets to trigger the suspension letters to be sent to drivers. If the dates were entered correctly, the drivers never would have received the suspension notices. County officials can't send an unpaid ticket to the collections agency without suspending a driver's license first.
For example, driver Odalys Olazabal of Hollywood received a suspension letter for a speeding ticket that happened back in 2001. Records show, the citation date was changed in the state’s online system to show it happened in the fall of 2015 instead, not 15 years ago.
"It's just insane to think they could do that," said Olazabal. "The Court needs money and I guess they're just trying to get it where they can."
FLHSMV said they don't condone bad driving behaviors and people are responsible for paying old tickets, but their concern is how Broward County went about trying to get people to pay those old tickets.
Searching County Emails
The NBC 6 Investigators requested and reviewed thousands of emails sent to and from Mary Mossie, the woman in charging of collecting traffic fines at the Broward County Clerk's Office and the elected Clerk, Howard Forman.
Email correspondence shows the state discovered more than 80,000 tickets from Broward County had incorrect dates entered. Of those tickets, more than 2,000 drivers had their licenses wrongfully suspended. State workers in Tallahassee have been working to remove those suspensions from the drivers’ official records.
The emails also show the Broward County Clerk's Office discovered the old tickets in Spring 2015 and have been looking for a way to cash in on the citations ever since.
Wanda Cuadrado, a driver who received a suspension notice for a 15 year old ticket said "I feel betrayed, I feel like they took advantage of me.”
County Clerk's Response
Back in November, County Clerk Howard Forman said he was going to launch an internal investigation into what happened. He hasn't responded to repeated requests for an interview as to the outcome of that investigation. When approached in person at the Broward County Clerk’s Office where he works, has declined to speak with NBC 6 Investigators on camera.
In an email, he stated his office discovered a "technical" issue that has since been "resolved." He also said he has instructed his staff to be more “diligent.”
The Clerk also stated by email he’s unaware of any State investigation and that the FLHSMV hasn’t responded to his inquiry. The email states: “I have informed you numerous times that we are unaware of a State investigation, and I have given you a copy of a letter I sent to the DHSMV requesting legal clarification of their statements to you. To date I have not received a response from the DHSMV. As stated previously, I maintain that I must pursue resolution to these cases despite the timeframe that has transpired."
The State's Investigation
The NBC 6 Investigation resulted in the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles launching its own investigation. For the past six months, officials have been reviewing suspension notices issued for every county in the State. They're also reviewing all policies and procedures related to traffic tickets getting entered into the state's online system and how suspensions are issued. A spokesperson said they're finalizing the report which will be due out shortly.
Beth Frady, the Communications Director for the FLHSMV, issued this statement:
“The non-criminal failure to comply records you inquired about were more than seven years old and were submitted to the department with erroneous offense dates. The original offense dates were beyond the retention schedule outlined in Florida law, therefore, the records have been purged. The department remains committed to highway safety and security throughout Florida as well as ensuring that we provide fair and consistent services to our customers.”