The commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles this week responded to criticism of his agency for its handling of the seizure of a Queensbury man's motorcycle, prompting a rebuke from the local resident's lawyer as the case heads toward another court hearing.
The case is that of Michael Willig, owner of Adirondack Seafood Co. He was charged with a felony last fall after investigators from the DMV seized a 1982 Harley-Davidson motorcycle from his business because they claimed its vehicle identification number was unreadable.
The seizure and charge have spawned a court battle that resulted in the criminal charge being dismissed, Willig's lawyer seeking to have the DMV held in contempt of court for not returning the bike and the state suing Queensbury Town Justice Michael Muller in an effort to head off a contempt finding.
Responding to a Post-Star editorial that urged the state to return Willig's bike, DMV Commissioner David Swarts wrote a letter to the paper claiming the agency was acting within the law and that it appeared the VIN had been tampered with and that it would be returned when a new VIN was purchased for $25 to make the vehicle street-legal.
Swarts said when DMV personnel looked over the motorcycle, "it was obvious that the VIN had been ground off. All that was left were the letters and number ‘HD1,' which indicates only that the motorcycle was manufactured by Harley Davidson," Swarts wrote.
Willig's lawyer, Kurt Mausert, scoffed at the accusation the VIN had been ground off and was illegible. Any damage would have occurred from wear and tear on the road, which is common with motorcycles where the VIN is exposed to the elements, he said.
He questioned how a DMV investigator could have recited the number to prosecutors with "99 percent certainty" in February if it was illegible.
"How can a DMV investigator claim to know the number with 99 percent certainty if only the first few digits are legible? Who is telling the truth? Did DMV damage the VIN in their inspection of it?" Mausert asked.
A call to the official who sent the DMV commissioner's letter to The Post-Star was not returned on Friday.
Mausert said Willig does not want to buy a new VIN because it's not legally required, and it would affect the motorcycle's status as a "classic." No longer being a classic bike would require him to outfit it with new equipment.
Mausert said Willig also has a valid, "clear" title that shows the last four owners of the motorcycle.
"The commissioner also doesn't deal with the issue that DMV continues to violate an order from the Queensbury Town Court that requires the return of the bike," Mausert said. "A member of the DMV told me that it was ‘only a Town Court order.' Translation: DMV regards itself as above the law when the law is not to their liking.
"DMV should stop being a sore loser, stop wasting taxpayer dollars and give back the bike pursuant to the court's order."
Since the DMV knows the bike's VIN number, it can simply put a new VIN plate with the same number on the bike at no cost to Willig, so he does not have to modify the bike, Mausert said.
The case is due back in Queensbury Town Court in the coming weeks, as Muller hears a contempt of court request filed by Mausert.
The hearing was initially scheduled for Nov. 1, but Mausert said he has asked for a new date in light of the fact that Nov. 1 is a regular court day in a court that has a full calendar.