UPDATE, Oct. 7:
The Tennessee Department of Revenue said in a statement:
Our investigation is complete and all license plates have been accounted for. It was determined that this occurred as a result of a UPS employee trying to remedy a situation involving a damaged shipping box. It was concluded that there was no malevolent behavior and the case has been closed.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis woman who ordered a box of cigars couldn’t believe what she got instead.
She agreed to tell her story about the cigars she was supposed to get as long as we kept her identity hidden. She said what happened is just too bizarre.
Her story starts online. She said she ordered cigars from Thompson Cigar Company, which were shipped from their fulfillment center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A box arrived July 27.
“When I lifted it, my first sign was, ‘Wow these are heavy,'” she said. “When I open it, to my surprise it was filled with new blue license plates.”
That’s right. Cigars weren’t in the box. Instead, she saw 100 Tennessee license plates — an item many in Shelby County are desperate to get.
This year the state rolled out new plates, which caused a giant backlog at the county clerk’s office. WREG has shown you the long lines wrapped around buildings and told you about the folks who have waited months to get theirs in the mail.
The license plate backlog is so bad in Shelby County that there are calls to bring in the state to take over.
“My own license plate expired in July, but because I have two vehicles, I was in no hurry because I didn’t want to stand in line to get them,” the woman said. “It’s just perplexing to me. Of course, maybe I’m overthinking it.”
Or maybe not.
She showed us the return address on the box that shows the cigar company. Then there was the packaging slip. She said it was sealed inside the box, underneath the plates, and again, from the cigar company listing the order she was supposed to get.
“So I immediately call the cigar company. Tell them what just happened. Of course they tell me that’s not possible. You could not have gotten license plates from our warehouse,” she explained.
That’s what Thompson Cigar also stated to WREG in an email. They do “not have any affiliation with license plates.”
She was told UPS would come get the plates. That didn’t happen.
“I thought let me call the police. Because again, I’m seeing on the news that license plates have been ordered and not showing up,” she said.
A Memphis police spokesperson told us from what they could tell, no crime was committed. They told her to try UPS again.
So she said she drove the plates to a nearby store.
“When I told them what happened, they looked at me like I had a box of rattlesnakes,” she said.
But they told her they can’t help her because “the box has been opened.”
“Well by then I’m just frustrated. I don’t know what to do. I called you,” she said.
Right after our interview, we immediately made some calls. First to the clerk’s office. Then to the Tennessee Department of Revenue, which is in charge of license plates.
Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert told us these license plates do not belong in the Shelby County inventory.
A few hours later state agents contacted us. We put them in contact with the woman. They showed up to her house and eagerly took the plates.
However, the state wouldn’t answer our questions, like who was supposed to get the plates, what could have possibly gone wrong, whether this was just an accident or whether it could be connected to a crime.
A spokesperson would only say, “We are still investigating this issue. We are now working with our common carrier to help us determine what happened.” They added this is “extremely unusual,” and it “will not cause issues or delays.”
UPS wouldn’t answer those questions.
The woman said they wouldn’t answer her questions, either.
But she did receive a new box of cigars.