Many Massachusetts residents who live near the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border may look longingly North and think about how much they would save if they registered and insured their motor vehicles in New Hampshire. If they act on that thought, they are well-advised to move to New Hampshire first.
Some Massachusetts residents do register their vehicles in New Hampshire using a sham address and statement of residency. However, those people run a risk. They may not know that New Hampshire has a Residency Task Force that comprises the State Police, the Division of Motor Vehicles, the New Hampshire Attorney General. and the Department of Insurance that seeks to investigate and prosecute “fraud relating to the illegal use of New Hampshire addresses of non-residents to obtain driver’s license, vehicle registrations, and titles.”
On June 17, 2020, Mr. Coleman P. McDonough, 65, a Massachusetts resident, learned the hard way about the investigation and prosecution of motor vehicle residency fraud in New Hampshire.
Multiple vehicle registration applications make the Atkinson Town Clerk suspicious
Mr. McDonough owns and operates his own Massachusetts construction company, C. P. McDonough Construction Corporation. The construction company is incorporated in Massachusetts but authorized to do business in New Hampshire as a foreign corporation. The company does work on an industrial park that Mr. McDonough has developed in Newton, New Hampshire, about a mile and a half from Haverhill, Massachusetts. However, its corporate address in New Hampshire was a PO Box in Plaistow, New Hampshire. Although neither he nor his company qualified, Mr. McDonough decided that he would register his vehicles in New Hampshire and avoid the Massachusetts taxes and higher insurance rates, residency, or no residency.
In New Hampshire, if you move in from out-of-state and want to register a vehicle, you must do so at the Town Clerk’s office. To complete the registration, you also must surrender your out-of-state title for a New Hampshire title to be issued for the vehicle. Finally, you also must show proof of residency in the town. A post office box address is stated explicitly in the regulations as being insufficient to show residency.
Atkinson, New Hampshire is a town that borders Haverhill, Massachusetts to the South, and Plaistow, New Hampshire to the West.
Mr. McDonough’s became a frequent visitor to the Atkinson Town Clerk’s office to register his mainly corporate vehicles. Eventually, the Town Clerk noticed that the address he used in the town for his registrations had an apparent discrepancy concerning the number of vehicles and vehicle numbers listed to that address.
The Town Clerk advised the Atkinson police of this discrepancy. Soon after the report from the Town Clerk, the Atkinson police with the assistance of the Special Services Section of the New Hampshire State Police, a unit charged with investigating residency fraud, began an investigation that lasted over a month.
The investigation found that Mr. McDonough had never lived in Atkinson at the address he had given the Town Clerk to register and title his vehicles. Instead, the investigators found that Mr. McDonough lived in Massachusetts, and his corporation had as its address a house in Reading, Massachusetts.
They also found that he had registered to vote and had voted at least once in New Hampshire even though he was not a resident of the state.
Arraignment scheduled for August 6, 2020, on seventy charges
On June 17, 2020, the investigators arrested Mr. McDonough.
Based on the number of vehicles Mr. McDonough registered and titled in New Hampshire, along with the sworn and unsworn statements he made on government documents as part of his scheme to improperly register his vehicles in New Hampshire, Mr. McDonough now faces seventy criminal charges.
The charges against him involve:
- Sixteen counts of motor vehicle title fraud, a felony under New Hampshire law when the fraud involves titles for commercial vehicles.
- Twenty-five counts of false statements on unsworn official documents in violation of N.H. Rev. Stat. § 641.3.
- Twenty-five additional counts of tampering with public records or information by knowingly presenting required documents with false information to the government in violation of N.H. Rev. Stat. § 641.7; and
- Four other separate charges that alleged false swearing; driving after a license suspension, felony voter fraud and misdemeanor voter fraud.
Mr. McDonough has his arraignment on the seventy charges against him scheduled for August 6, 2020, in the Rockingham County Superior Court.
New Hampshire has a task force on rooting out residency fraud that works with Massachusetts
While Massachusetts residents who own second homes in New Hampshire may have the vehicle they use in that state, registered there, residency fraud like that alleged in Mr. McDonough’s case is not uncommon.
Since 2007, at least, New Hampshire has recognized that residency fraud involving motor vehicles is insurance fraud. In that year, the New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner in a publication of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners advised that New Hampshire had set up an insurance fraud task force to address residency fraud. The then Commissioner, Roger Sevigny, reported that:
The Residency Task Force has been formed in partnership with the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles, local law enforcement, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), and the state of Massachusetts’ counterparts for each participating New Hampshire agency. The Task Force will address the problem of out–of–state drivers that illegally register their cars and obtain insurance policies in New Hampshire to take advantage of lower personal auto insurance premiums. This practice results in higher premiums for insured New Hampshire drivers and constitutes a fraud.”
The pursuit of fraudulent vehicle registrations by out-of-state residents is still a high enforcement priority in New Hampshire. The web page for the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Special Services Section of Troop G of the New Hampshire State Police, the state troopers that assisted the Atkinson police investigating Mr. McDonough’s residency, states:
The Special Services Section is the primary criminal investigative section for the Division of Motor Vehicles. The section, in support of the [Division of Motor Vehicle]’s mission, works with the Attorney General’s Office Residency Task Force and the Insurance Commission investigating fraud relating to the illegal use of New Hampshire addresses of non-residents to obtain driver’s license, vehicle registrations, and titles.
Massachusetts authorities advised of Mr. McDonough’s arrest and charges
Since Mr. McDonough registered his vehicles in New Hampshire to avoid paying Massachusetts registration fees, auto excise taxes, and Massachusetts’ insurance costs, the New Hampshire police have reportedly notified Massachusetts authorities of his arrest and charges.
Agency Checklists will advise if it learns that Massachusetts has followed up with its own set of charges against Mr. McDonough.