Claim forms for excise tax overcharges in mail; critic says BMV should send refunds directly

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Bureau of Motor Vehicles has begun mailing out claim forms to Indiana motorists for refunds from about $29 million in overcharges on excise taxes when vehicles were registered, the agency said Wednesday.

About 180,000 people are owed refunds going back to 2004 and should receive claim forms in the next 30 days, the agency said. The BMV admitted the excise tax overcharges last month and said they resulted from vehicles being improperly classified when they were registered.

"The BMV will use all reasonable measures to locate everyone entitled to a refund, including follow-up mailings and the use of national databases to locate individuals who may have moved outside of Indiana," BMV Commissioner Don Snemis said in a news release. Snemis also said the BMV is developing a website where anyone entitled to a refund can print a claim form.

However, Irwin Levin, the Indianapolis attorney leading a class-action lawsuit against the BMV concerning a host of overcharges, said the BMV should simply mail out the refunds instead of making people fill out claim forms. Some people will regard the forms as junk mail or a scam or otherwise ignore them, he said.

"When our government has illegally overcharged people, they shouldn't create hoops for those same people to go through when it is unnecessary," Levin said in an interview.

BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie said Levin's criticisms were invalid and that Indiana statute requires a claim form for all tax refunds. He said mailings containing the claim forms won't be mistaken for junk mail in part because the words "excise tax refund information" will be written on them in big, red, capital letters.

Snemis said the agency has taken steps to prevent overcharges in the future. It has selected an outside auditor to study the BMV's processes and procedures for calculating and charging taxes and fees.

The BMV also has reorganized so its finance department supervises the calculation of excise taxes, and it is adopting policies that require all employees to report any undercharge or overcharge to the agency's legal department for investigation, Snemis said.

A former BMV deputy director, Matthew Foley, has said in a deposition he told agency leaders as early as 2010 that many BMV fees exceeded what was authorized under Indiana law but the agency kept overcharging motorists for at least two years to avoid budget troubles.

The BMV last year settled a separate class-action lawsuit accusing the agency of overcharging customers by $30 million. More than 4.5 million Indiana drivers were refunded $3.50 to $15 as part of the settlement.

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