Driver's license scandals raise national security worries

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Sat Jan 15 20:16:50 PST 2005


Driver's license scandals raise national security worries

 Associated Press Writer

 January 15, 2005, 5:30 PM EST

 BRIDGEPORT, Conn. --  Tracy Lucas-Stevenson earned $40,000 as a state
motor vehicle employee, so she raised investiators' eyebrows when an
acquaintance said she bragged about buying a Lincoln Navigator, a pool and
a new kitchen within a year.

What authorities uncovered was a web of illegal immigrants, shady middlemen
with names like "Chile" and "El Gordo" and motor vehicle examiners like
Lucas-Stevenson who are accused of issuing illegal driver's licenses.

Connecticut had developed a reputation from as far away as Florida as a
place where people could buy fraudulent driver's licenses for as much as
$3,500 without having to produce any identification. DMV workers also took
payoffs for stealing the identities of legitimate license holders, police

Investigators suspect hundreds of licenses were fraudulently issued,
sparking worries about illegal immigration, identity theft and even threats
to national security.

"It's an alarming number, frankly," said prosecutor John H. Malone. "If we
find that many so soon in the investigation, I'd be surprised if there
weren't more as the investigation progresses."

Similar scams have occurred around the country:

_ In New Jersey, nine state motor vehicle employees pleaded guilty to a
scheme that involved payoffs for bogus licenses.

_ In Illinois, a federal investigation into the trading of bribes for
driver's licenses led to dozens of convictions and the indictment of former
Gov. George Ryan on racketeering and other charges.

_ In Virginia, more than 200 people are losing their licenses because of
suspected fraud by a former Department of Motor Vehicles worker who
allegedly sold licenses for as much as $2,500 each.

The federal intelligence overhaul law signed by President Bush last month
imposes new standards on information that driver's licenses must contain.
Many states, meanwhile, are cracking down by implementing extra measures to
get licenses.

In North Carolina, new driver's license photos are compared to mug shots of
suspected terrorists, while Minnesota is starting to use new technology
designed to thwart counterfeiters.

The fraud alarms officials amid fears of identity theft and terrorism. Fake
ID cards made it possible for the Sept. 11 terrorists to board commercial

"The clear and present danger that fraudulent licenses are in the hands of
terrorists or anyone who would harm our country requires the strongest
possible action," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Investigators are working with federal authorities to compare the names on
questionable Connecticut licenses with terrorist databases. There have been
no matches so far, officials said.

State and local authorities have made 10 arrests, including three employees
at the Department of Motor Vehicles. More arrests are expected as
investigators try to determine if higher ranking DMV employees were

"Presumably a superior would have some knowledge of what the subordinates
are doing," Malone said.

Lucas-Stevenson, who faces forgery charges, declined comment. She has been
placed on administrative leave with pay. The other two DMV employees face
bribery charges.

Investigators also have uncovered the first identity theft cases.

A $4,000 line of credit was taken out in the name of Patrick Milling, an
assistant principal in Farmington, to buy an expensive watch and diamonds.
Another fake ID card was used to withdraw $11,500 from the bank account of
a Bristol man.

A DMV employee allegedly received an envelope containing $700 for issuing
one of the fake ID cards.

Authorities also are investigating more than 200 registrations and 18
driver's licenses traced to a business in Danbury that caters to immigrants
from Ecuador.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said the Fairfield County city is struggling
with a wave of illegal immigration.

"We're literally being overrun," Boughton said.

The scandal prompted Gov. M. Jodi Rell to order the DMV to examine all
aspects of licensing. The agency last week announced a plan that includes a
reorganization, new technology to prevent fraud and measures designed to
tighten internal oversight of how the DMV issues drivers' licenses.

"While I know that the vast majority of our employees are honest and
committed to integrity, a few abused that public trust," DMV Commissioner
Gary DeFilippo wrote in a letter to employees. "However, the severity of
the matter has caused us to look at how this problem started and what might
be done to prevent reocurrences."

Henry William Pardo, a Florida businessman, warned DMV about the problem
after he learned that several Brazilians he hired obtained phony licenses
in Connecticut.

"Every illegal Brazilian person in this country knows about the Connecticut
DMV and the person who sells it," Pardo wrote in a letter to DMV a year ago.

That left Pardo _ and authorities _ wondering who else might get an illegal

"Any al-Qaida member could go to the same place, pay his money and obtain a
license and go about his business," Pardo said.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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