Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
This is my story about how a 30 second unanswered question about sales tax turned into a (3) lawsuits over a phone number that eventually led to me paying my local D.M.V with FIVE wheel barrows full of 298,745 pennies, enjoy....
I called back several times and needless to say after MANY repeat phone calls to that same unlisted number (the number that I wasn't "allowed" to call) I finally got my question answered. So I went to my local DMV and paid the sales tax on the Corvette.
A few days before the initial phone call I had just paid my 3rd quarter income taxes. Being self employed I am required to pay income taxes 4 times per year (once every quarter). I had just paid over $60,000 just in income taxes for 3 months of income and for a government employee to tell me that I wasn't allowed to call a telephone that I was already paying for rubbed me the wrong way. The more I thought about the phone call the more it bothered me. At that point I could care less about the phone number, I wanted to prove a point, a major point. To prove my point I called the Lebanon DMV office back again and this time I asked for the direct "unlisted" private phone numbers to nine other local DMV offices. My local DMV refused to give me any of the nine phone numbers citing that "they aren't allowed to".
Since my original phone call back in September about the Corvette, I bought a new Chevrolet Silverado and a new Cadillac Escalade, and as always I paid cash, (no banks, no liens, both title(s) in hand, straight out ownership) and by paying in cash (just like with the Corvette) I was required to pay the sales tax at my local Lebanon DMV except this time I wanted to pay using pennies, all $2,987.45 worth. The DMV inconvenienced me so I wanted to return the favor, and this is where my plan of revenge began...
I filed (3) separate lawsuits in the Russell County General District Court against the Lebanon DMV and also against the specifically listed employees who refused to release the other direct "unlisted" private phone numbers (which are all covered under the "Freedom of Information Act") .
I also filed (3) injunctions asking the court to enforce a statutorily mandated $500 penalty against the Lebanon DMV and also enforce a statutorily mandated $500 penalty against each specifically listed employee for failure to release the phone numbers as per the "Violations and Penalties" section of the "Virginia Freedom of Information Act" : https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title2.2/chapter37/section2.2-3714/. I also asked the court to require the Lebanon DMV and each specifically listed employee named within the lawsuit for the reimbursement of all attorney fees and court costs.
By this time, through word of mouth, several news organizations started to take interest in my story.
JANUARY 10th 2017 COURT HEARING:
I was victorious in forcing the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to turn over the "unlisted" private phone numbers of all the local DMV offices in Southwest Virginia.
In our court hearing a representative from the Richmond Attorney Generals office came all the way to Russell County to personally hand me a list with all the phone numbers that I had requested, the unlisted numbers are now listed at the top of this page (you're welcome).
When the state personally turned over the info to me during our court hearing, I had no objections when the Attorney Generals Office asked the judge for a dismissal. I personally told the judge quote "Your honor I think I have proven my point here, the phone numbers are irrelevant to me".
JANUARY 11th 2017 - PAYING SALES TAX IN PENNIES:
I purposely waited to go to my DMV less than 24 hours after my court case.
The night before going to the DMV I put an ad on facebook that said I was paying $10 cash per hour to anyone who would show up at my business and help me bust open rolls of pennies. Shockingly I had 11 people (that I didn't even know) show up late at night with hammers just to help me bust open rolls of pennies. It took 44 man hours (11 people, 4 hours each) just to bust open all the pennies. The total weight of $2,987.45 worth of pennies was 1,548 pounds.
I arrived at the DMV at 9:00 a.m. After doing a few interviews with local news stations in the parking lot, I started transporting the pennies into the DMV using FIVE wheel barrows full of unrolled pennies ($2,987.45 worth). After finishing the paperwork to title my 2 vehicles it was time to pay the sales tax using pennies. The DMV started counting the pennies using automated coin counting machines but the machines were jamming so the DMV had to count the remaining pennies by hand. The DMV was requiring that me or one of my employees remain inside the DMV office until the count was finished. The DMV employees were being very respectful and accommodating considering the situation, but I think it was all for the cameras. I ended up leaving halfway through the count and let several of my employees take turns staying at the DMV until the count was finished.
Coincidently, the same employees who denied me the one number in the beginning were the ones who ended up having to count the pennies, by hand.
The DMV was required to accept the pennies as per section 31 U.S.C. 5103 of the "United States Coinage Act of 1965". Federal law specifically says: "United States coins and currency are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues."
This penny story went viral within a few hours. The story was on the front page of just about every newspaper in America and for several days I did interviews for news stations and talk shows all over the world. People either loved it or hated it, but the fact is that everybody was talking about it for a few days. The story was on Inside Edition, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Tonight show and several other large media outlets. There is even a documentary in the works. Search google for “Nick Stafford pays the DMV in pennies” and you will see how popular it was.
To those who may not know me, several years ago out of the blue, I came up with a crazy business idea to sell sheets of sign/decal vinyl on the internet. It was an idea that nobody had ever heard of before. I decided to start my own website out of a back spare bedroom of a run down rented house. I was dead broke, scared to death, and had I no clue how to use a cell phone much less create a website. Being a new father and a college drop out I had no choice but to spend many sleepless nights in that back spare bedroom trying to build my new business and feed my new family. My only "employee" at the time was my very tired wife who worked 2 jobs while still managing to raise our son, but she never complained or asked me for a paycheck. Many people doubted my crazy business idea because at the time and many people laughed at the thought of me actually being successful.
Fast forward to today, the back spare bedroom grew to an 9,500 sq. foot warehouse that generates an average of 3 million dollars in sales each year and I now employ a full time day shift and a full time night shift that operates around the clock, 24 hours a day, 6 days a week.
With all that said, I have never had a problem challenging "authority", or throwing up a few middle fingers to the people who doubted me. After all, growing up my mother always said that I should have been a professional elevator attendant because I liked to push buttons.
The people who doubted me are now silent, my wife and son now live a life that most can only dream about, but, after all these years, I still don't know how to use a cell phone.
I run my business with no non-sense. I do things a little unconventional as far as “customer service". I have made a fortune from being the “rude” guy that sells vinyl online. I proudly sport an “F” rating with the BBB just because I don’t babysit problematic customers. I have no problem “firing” a bad customer then turning around and making a tacky YouTube video giving away their order. It is a marketing technique that has worked out very well. A lot of folks love the way I do business, I say a lot of things that most people who work in customer service would love to say but won’t. Then of course I have thousands of people who despise my company and I’m perfectly ok with that. Some of my “haters” think that it was “karma” that I received bad customer service with the DMV, and that may be true. However, the government requires its citizens to do business with the DMV, nobody is required to purchase from my website.
Moral of the story, NEVER, ever, tell a slightly rebellious, yet knowledgeable and well informed tax paying citizen (who has made MILLIONS on the internet) that he is not "allowed" to call a phone number that HE is already paying for. In 2016 I paid nearly $300,000 just in state and federal income taxes and I have zero tolerance for any government employee refusing to follow the laws of this great nation. An open and transparent democracy is the backbone of our republic.
The five new wheel barrows cost me over $400. The labor (my employees spending time at the DMV plus the 44 man hours from the facebook ad) cost me well over $700. The Lawsuit ended up costing me several hundreds dollars.
I now have the 5 wheel barrows on display, permanently bolted on top of the roof of my business.
Would I do it again? In a heart beat, "sticking it to the man" and the FREE advertising for my business was worth every single, penny.