Pottawattamie County driver cited when old license plate turns up in New York City

Alerting local authorities leads Treasurer’s Office to find several cases linked to scrap metal donation
A minor traffic violation a thousand miles away sparks a bigger mystery in Council Bluffs.
Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 2:15 PM CDT
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COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (WOWT) - A minor traffic violation a thousand miles away sparked a bigger mystery in Council Bluffs.

An expired license plate an Iowa woman turned in long ago caused a more recently undeserved fine — and her fight may be the only case like it.

Walking from the mailbox with a traffic fine notice, Kathy Baker notices it’s from somewhere she’s never been before.

“This is in New York City,” she said.

The Iowa license plate once registered to her company had been caught on camera in New York City speeding 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, which carries a $50 fine.

“I don’t want to pay for somebody else going through a school zone,” she said. “That’s not his license plate — that doesn’t belong to that guy. He bought that from somebody.”

Baker hasn’t seen that Iowa license plate since exchanging it for a new one at the Pottawattamie County Treasurer’s Office in 2009. But 6 News showed the Treasurer Lea Voss that same plate number caught on a New York City speed camera six weeks ago.

“It is a very big mystery to us,” Voss said.

There are other such plates getting fines, too, mostly for parking violations.

“I bet we have probably 10 or 15 so far,” Voss said. “It’s just New York, and I contacted the finance department, and I contacted the mayor’s office, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t you check into this?’ Because I can’t believe all these Iowa people are out in New York.”

Voss said she believes the Pottawattamie County plates captured on violation cameras in New York City come from 2010-2012. That’s a period when some were donated to an out-of-state charity to scrap and pay for child car seats. The initiative ended more than 10 years ago, and old plates go to one place now.

Old plates are collected at the Pottawattamie County Treasurer’s Office, and then about once a month, someone from Iowa Prison Industries comes to pick them up.”

An Iowa Department of Transportation email says it’s unusual to hear of returned plates being used illegally, and Iowa Prison Industries has good procedures in place to securely dispose of plates.

“And we personally cart them out to the truck and put them on that truck, and he goes down the road,” Voss said.

For several years, Iowa has been mailing out replacement plates, so some vehicle owners dispose of them on their own. The treasurer found one for sale on eBay after receiving an undeserved fine notice, Baker will tell you where to put them all.

“They need to cut them in half; they need to melt them,” she said. “They need to do something. You don’t put a license plate on your car that belongs to somebody else.”

After 6 News contacted New York City DOT officials, they said they are working to resolve Baker’s fine notice. But with that old plate in her name still on the streets of the city that never sleeps, she said she will continue to lose some.

“We’re stuck with paying whatever he does with that vehicle with that plate on it,” Baker said.

New York City DOT officials told 6 News late Wednesday that a review found the Iowa plate had been attached to the wrong make and model of vehicle, so the violation notice sent to Baker had been dismissed.

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