When Albert Pena checked the mailbox of his Weston home this fall, he had no idea what he was opening would be an issue for him and for thousands of South Florida drivers.
He received a letter warning him he had an unpaid traffic ticket and his license would be suspended in days if it wasn't paid. After calling the Broward County Clerk's Office, he discovered the ticket in question was 15-years-old.
"There's no way I can remember any of the details," Pena said. "It's kind of unfair because how do you defend yourself?"
The NBC 6 Investigators tracked down Pena's original ticket. It shows he was pulled over by police in August of 2001 for making a u-turn on a red light, a traffic infraction, in Pembroke Pines.
"I have no recollection of this ticket whatsoever," Pena said.
It wasn't until NBC 6 Investigators began asking questions about Pena's ticket that state officials launched an investigation into the Broward County Clerk of Court's Office and revealed that Pena's case is not an isolated one.
In July, Broward County Clerk's Office contacted the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) to inform the agency that they were considering requesting to suspend at least 184,000 drivers licenses that were given out prior to 2008. The office also requested to suspend an unknown number of licenses for tickets handed out between 2008-2014.
In a statement, officials with the DHSMV told NBC 6 in part, while they don't "condone unsafe driving habits," the county should have dealt with tickets "in a timely manner" and recommended the clerk's office to "not submit outdated suspension notices."
Mary Mossie, who oversees traffic tickets for the Broward County Clerk of Court, said the clerk's office discovered Pena's unpaid ticket while running a monthly report.
"No matter how many years back you've had a traffic citation, the person is still obligated to make payment and to pay in full," Mossie said.
Mossie also said the county did not move forward with any suspensions after discussing the issue with DHSMV.
However, the state's preliminary investigation has found wrong dates entered on at least 2,000 old tickets that were submitted for suspension. The clerk's office is responsible for entering the offense dates when submitting the information to the state.
For example, Pena's ticket date was listed as Sept. 28, 2015, and not Aug. 12, 2001, the actual date of the ticket. DHSMV officials tell us the system would not have issued a suspension letter for a ticket older than seven years and that the incorrect ticket dates started showing up within the last few months.
When asked why the wrong date was on the ticket when it was submitted to the state, Mossie said: "I'm not aware of anything about a wrong date so I'm confused, I don't know."
State officials are now investigating all suspension notices submitted through Broward County Clerk's Office for the past six months.
Mossie said she’s concerned and that the clerk's office wants to make sure the records they process are done accurately because the clerk’s office is the record keeper.
If anything is found as a result of the investigation, Mossie said, "We will take every step that we can to correct it."
Meanwhile, Pena has hired an attorney and they're fighting his ticket in court.
"This is the first time I've seen a ticket so old pop up," said Ted Hollander, Pena's attorney.
Here's the full statement Beth Frady, a spokesperson with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, sent to the NBC 6 Investigators:
"Since receiving notification of this issue from the Broward County Clerk of Court, the department has encouraged the clerk to work toward a resolution that would not be punitive in nature. The department continues to stand by its recommendation to not submit outdated suspension notices and will continue to work tirelessly to identify those that are outdated and, if the law allows, purge them from the drivers’ record."
To check if your license is valid, have your driver's license number available and enter it at the state's website.
If you received a suspension letter for an old ticket, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also contact the Broward County Clerk of Court's office or the Florida DHSMV.