Florida Accuses Man of Fraud For Taking Wife's Name, Then Backs Off

Lazaro Dinh poses with his wife, Hanh on their wedding in 2011. Credit: Jay Nguyen

A Florida man is behind the wheel of his car again after the Department of Motor Vehicles suspended and then restored his license - accusing him of fraud at first because he changed his last name to his wife's.

"The suspension has been lifted," said Kristen Olsen-Doolan, spokeswoman for the Florida Department Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. "We're doing training so everyone realizes it [the name change] works both ways."

Lazaro Dinh, formerly Lazaro Sopena, changed his name in July of 2011 after he married his wife, Hanh Dinh. As "an act of love" to her, he said, he decided he'd change his name.

"I wanted to surprise her," said Dinh. "My family has plenty of men and I thought it would be cool to surprise her with the news."

He began to research the Florida DMV website and, and said he called to make sure he would have the proper documents to make the name change possible. All he needed, according to the DMV, was a new Social Security card and the original marriage certificate. When he walked into the DMV offices in West Palm Beach, he paid the $20 fee and left with a new license. The couple had been married a month. Following the name change on his license, Dinh changed his name on his credit cards, passport and bank accounts.

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"I figured I had everything to switch over to her last name," he said.

Fast forward a year and a half to Dec. 10, 2012. Dinh said he received a letter from the DMV saying that his license would be suspended for a year beginning on Dec. 30, 2012.

"It was just a simple letter saying they're [the DMV] suspending my license because I obtained it under fraud," said Dinh. "I thought it was a mistake."

Dinh called the DMV in Tallahassee, and soon sought out legal help. Eventually, he spoke with Forronte Battles, the DMV official handling his case. Dinh said Battles could not "understand why a man would want to change his last name to his wife's."

The DMV allowed Dinh an administrative hearing, but according to Spencer Kuvin, the attorney he called, "The hearing officer told him that he could not change his name in the same manner that a woman could. He would need to get a court order to do it. Dinh objected to that and said that it was unfair."

Dinh received notice on Jan. 14 that the DMV had denied his right to drive. He decided to ask for a hardship license - allowable if you've been accused of offenses such as drunk driving - but he was denied because of his alleged fraud.

Both Dinh and his wife work in real estate in West Palm Beach and drive heavily for work, showing properties to buyers and potential investors. When his license was suspended for 27 days, she had to drive him from property to property.

"When he took my ability to drive, I honestly freaked out," said Dinh. "My wife continued to sacrifice herself so that I can continue to earn an income."

Dinh and his lawyer decided appeal the order in civil court. They called the media. Two days later, Battles called, saying that the DMV would restore his driving privileges if he provided documentation of his name. It took less than an hour for the DMV to scan his documents, including his new passport. He was then issued a transcript saying the infraction had been removed.

"I jumped in my wife's car, told her to move over and I drove all the way home," said Dinh. "It was the first time I drove the car in 29 days."

Kuvin said the DMV "did a full about-face." Kuvin said there are currently nine states that allow a man to change his last name to his wife's, including California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and North Dakota.

"Why should a man go through all of that when a woman can walk to the DMV office with $20 and say, 'I'm married. Can I change my name?'" said Kuvin. "No one has tested the the law going backwards. It's an entirely new concept now that society has tried to bring women's equal rights up to the level of a man."

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