Sunday, July 14, 2024

Coastal town’s license plate agency shuttered for ‘cause,’ though DMV declines to say why

A new traffic light is currently running an obligatory phase of constant blinking yellow lights before the store's Wednesday opening. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The plate agency in Southport has been operated by Vera Martin since 2008. (File photo)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles suddenly shuttered a local license plate agency that is now under investigation.

Located at 4831 Port Loop Road, Unit 105, in Southport, the agency was closed Friday after “several contract violations,” according to the NCDMV.

A letter sent to proprietor Vera Martin states the division’s contract with her may be terminated for “cause.”

Cause, according to the letter, could include incompetence, mismanagement of DMV equipment, fraud or embezzlement resulting “involving moral turpitude by the contractor,” incorrect performance of vehicle transactions the DMV has to correct, and “incorrect performance of vehicle transactions that result in an adverse impact on the general public.”

NCDMV spokesperson John Brockwell told Port City Daily the division is declining to comment further on the case and the exact circumstances that led to the Southport location closing and being investigated by the North Carolina License and Theft Bureau.

The plate agency handled local plate and vehicle registrations and was operated by Martin dating back to 2008. For fiscal year FY2022, it processed 26,785 renewals.

The main line for the agency was already disconnected by Friday afternoon.

Brockwell said all six remaining plate agencies in the tri-county area are run by private proprietors or local governments as well, though are overseen by the DMV. The division investigates titles and registration transactions for quality on a weekly basis, holds monthly audits of each agency’s inventory and bank records, and handles customer service complaints and reported violations of state law.

Port City Daily requested records of complaints against the Southport agency. Brockwell said it will require research and the division will be able to furnish them next week.

There are 126 plate agencies across the state, any of which can be shuttered upon not meeting state and federal requirements placed on it, including effective management of DMC equipment and transactions.

The last time a plate agency in Brunswick County was shut down was 2006 in Oak Island. An employee, Annie Daphine Ross Prince, pled guilty to embezzling more than $300,000 from the agency in 2008.

The division has closed multiple plate agencies over the course of the past year: Albemarle in February, a Holly Springs location in August and a location in Huntersville in September. In each case, the division cited, again, “the discovery of several contract violations.”

In the Huntersville case, it reopened later the same month under the direct control of the DMV as an “express” office with limited services.

For now the DMV is advising Southport and nearby residents to travel to one of the three other locations during weekday hours:

  • Bolivia, located at 30 Government Drive, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Shallotte, located at 5300 S. Main St., open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wilmington, located at 2390 Carolina Beach Road, Suite 108, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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