A large number of Linn County license plates started showing up in Brooklyn, New York, in recent years.
Residents soon realized these weren’t just Midwestern tourists.
“They are a real plague,” said Amy Hackett, who lives in the Ditmas Park West neighborhood. “We have limited on-street parking and they will occupy eight or so spots on the block.”
The Iowa Department of Transportation is investigating why two businesses have registered hundreds of vehicles in Iowa, but are conducting business in New York. The cars with mostly Linn and Polk county plates could have a legitimate use, but they could also be part of criminal scheme, said Major Paul Steier with the Office of Motor Vehicle Enforcement.
“Human trafficking, drugs, you name it,” Steier said. “It’s still an active investigation.”
Hackett and her husband, Stoney McMurray, started noticing the Iowa cars earlier this year. While it’s not unusual to see out-of-state plates in New York, the ones with Iowa’s city/farm landscape didn’t seem to move, she said.
New York cars that get too many parking tickets get booted or towed, Hackett said, but police told residents they could only offer repeated tickets for the Iowa cars.
Ditmas Park, a historic district, and its neighbor, Ditmas Park West, were created in the early 1900s within the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. The area is known for century-old Victorians with wide front yards and the longest row of bungalows in Brooklyn.
Joel Siegel, Ditmas Park West Neighborhood Association president and Manhattan lawyer, wrote a letter May 16 to the Iowa Insurance Division and copied it to a half-dozen other agencies and lawmakers in New York and Iowa.
Siegal believes the problem cars are owned by a car rental business using names including 25 Dollar Car Rental, Elite Car & Truck Rental, Rent 4 Less, 123 Go Rent A Car and Econo Rentals, the letter states. A business named 25 Dollar Car Rental.Com LLC is registered with the New York State Department of State as having a Brooklyn address.
“We are concerned the registering and insuring of these vehicles in Iowa may be improper,” Siegel wrote.
New York is one of the five most expensive states in the country for car insurance, with the average policy costing $1,062 a year, compared to $530 in Iowa, according to a Bankrate.com analysis. Registration costs between the two states are comparable.
The Iowa DOT and Iowa Insurance Division are working with authorities in New York to investigate the unusual case, Steier said. They would also like to talk with the New York Police Department to see whether officers have ever talked with the drivers of the cars or owners of the businesses.
The NYPD’s 70th Precinct, where Ditmas Park West is located, did not return several calls from The Gazette.