The common stereotype of a prisoner’s day-to-day life involved the creation of license plates. Over time, the unique vocation became more rare as costs rose and manufacturing technology advanced beyond the physical pressing.
A few states continue the practice with the Michigan License Plate Factory producing 8,000 per day and New Jersey inmates manufacturing one million per year. However, most no longer require the incarcerated to press plates.
Apparently, an “entrepreneur” named Raphael Levi, a New York City resident, allegedly decided to go into license plate business in 2008. Prosecutors claim that he created a web of non-existent car dealerships and transporter businesses and set them up across rural Pennsylvania to get license plates that were rented for approximately $400 per month or more.
According to court records, Levi was able to create a multi-million dollar enterprise by securing more than 1,000 license plates (400 are still active) and register them to his associated businesses. Any fines, notices or other violations mailed by law enforcement, parking authorities or toll operators would end up in addresses or post office boxes associated with Levi’s organization.
Investigators claim that those tickets went unanswered, along with accident claims involving cars with plates attached. Levi offered a “package” that included fraudulent insurance cards and paperwork in addition to the plates.
Prosecutors have charged a dozen people as part of an organized crime ring. The fallout may continue, as the investigation is ongoing. Users of the rented plates may or may not face charges. However, the state will seek restitution. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is shoring up shortcomings exploited by the purported ring.