SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A Schenectady repair shop owner has taken a plea agreement to satisfy a 15-count indictment of fraud charges. The Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office said Earl Armstrong, 41, of Amsterdam, pleaded guilty to one count of scheme to defraud in the first degree, which is a felony.

The DA’s Office said the investigation into Armstrong began in May 2020 after he was found driving a blue Ford F-150 truck that had a temporary paper license plate purportedly issued by the State of Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Armstrong’s driver’s license was also revoked at the time. Investigators then found the truck had been stolen out of Maryland and they began to search for it.

As part of the investigation, DA investigators found that car dealerships in Texas have access to an electronic license plate system known as the “e-TAG” system. This allows them to create temporary license plates on behalf of the State of Texas Department of Motor Vehicles for use in limited circumstances.

At the time, investigators said there were no safeguards to ensure that the plates were issued appropriately using the e-TAG system. The system was also not integrated with the National Crime Information Center which would have “red-flagged” the vehicle as being reported stolen. Because of this, officials said the temporary plate on the F-150 would appear to be valid to law enforcement if they only used the license plate number, not the vehicle identification number.

“Due to the vast numbers of Texas paper license plates observed in the Capital Region and given
their likely fraudulent nature as used in New York, local law enforcement agencies, together with the New York State Police and NYS DMV, made numerous traffic stops in and around the Capital Region. Those efforts resulted in the seizure of numerous stolen vehicles, firearms, narcotics, as well as the discovery of drivers operating vehicles with revoked or suspended driving privileges,” said the DA’s Office.

This led police to an unlicensed vehicle repair shop that was reportedly selling the Texas license plates for hundreds of dollars in the area of State and Hulett Streets in Schenectady. Officials said the shop was owned by Armstrong. Police then found the stolen Ford F-150 parked outside of Armstrong’s apartment in Amsterdam. The truck was seized and eventually returned to the car dealership in Maryland.

Armstrong was arrested and search warrants were executed at the repair shop. Investigators said they found several fraudulent license plates and laminating materials. Text messages were also found about the license plate scheme.

Armstrong’s guilty plea satisfied a 15-count indictment against him, which charged him with:

  • Criminal Possession of stolen property in the third degree (felony)
  • Ten counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree (felonies)
  • Reproducing false license plates (felony)
  • Scheme to defraud in the first degree (felony)
  • Two counts of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the second degree (misdemeanors)

As part of the plea agreement, the DA’s Office said Armstrong will be sentenced to 1.5 years to 3 years in state prison and ordered to pay restitution. Sentencing is scheduled for July 19. In addition, the DA’s Office said Armstrong will plead guilty to a separate felony grand larceny charge, receive a concurrent 1.5 years to 3 years state prison sentence, and also be ordered to pay restitution.