RENO — Elvis nearly cost a Nevada retiree a king’s ransom.
Almost everyone has a horror story about the frustrations of government bureaucracy. James Mensinger, 82, lived through a nightmare that nearly needed an act of Congress, or at least the help of a U.S. senator, to resolve.
It all began in 1978 when Mensinger bought Nevada state-issued vanity license plates inscribed with “Elvis” for his Lincoln Town Car.
He’s kept the plates through the years, even though he has bought new Town Cars.
“They’ve always been Lincolns,” he said.
The problem, though, is other people have purchased novelty Elvis license plates at trinket and memorabilia shops, a proliferation of which soon began to give Mensinger a real headache.
Toll charges and tickets from other states began to mount — even though Mensinger hasn’t left Nevada in decades.
“The first one I got was from Minnesota,” Mensinger told the Las Vegas Review-Journal during a telephone interview from the Sierra Royal Mobile Home Park in Sparks.
Then toll tickets came from other states: Pennsylvania, California, Kentucky.
“All of a sudden they started flooding in,” said Mensinger, a retired caterer, bus driver, security man and Amtrak worker.
Many of the tickets or toll fees included pictures of the vehicles. None was a Lincoln Town Car, and none was from Nevada.
“They get these Elvis novelty plates, and the car goes down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and cameras get a picture,” Mensinger explained.
Since Mensinger’s plates were registered, “I got the tickets for a trailer truck going down the turnpike. I got tickets with all different types of cars and pickup trucks.”
Within no time, the tickets and fees totaled several thousand dollars.
Frustration set in as Mensinger wrote letters to states and agencies that were seeking payment, some threatening his credit rating for failure to pay.
He tried to explain that he hadn’t left Nevada for decades and that the descriptions on the toll tickets were not of his vehicles.
“The last time I was out of state was back in 1990 or 1991, somewhere in there, someplace down in South Carolina,” Mensinger said.
Not knowing where to turn next, Mensinger said he called ABC television affiliate KOLO in Reno.
The station took up his case and helped with the most difficult ticket, from the Kentucky-Indiana tolling system, which threatened Mensinger’s credit.
“I’ve got good credit. I don’t want it ruined,” Mensinger said.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, became involved, and her staffers contacted officials in Kentucky until the toll fees in that state, to which Mensinger had never traveled, were finally waived.
Cortez Masto said she was glad to help Mensinger safeguard his credit and finances “by getting those erroneous toll charges dismissed and ensuring he isn’t punished for his love for ‘The King.’”
Mensinger said he was grateful for the help from the senator and the Reno TV station and its reporter who straightened out the mess.
As for the Presley plates, Mensinger said he will keep them despite the recent hassles.
When asked whether he would rather change plates to those that honor Wayne Newton or Liberace, Mensinger laughed it off.
“No,” he said. “We’ll stick with Elvis.”