Six Charged in Big-Rig-License-for-Cash Scandal at DMV

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The going price for fraudulently obtaining a trucker’s commercial license from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is apparently $5,000, and the documents are much in demand.

That assessment is, admittedly, based on a small sample of the bribery scandals (the latest one) tarnishing the department’s reputation. Federal authorities charged three DMV employees and three truck-school operators in three separate conspiracies that yielded 100 fraudulent licenses without a single test passed. The probe began as three separate investigations before they merged.

“Allowing unqualified drivers to operate heavy commercial trucks on our highways is honestly quite chilling,” said Carol Webster, acting assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations office in Sacramento.

Officials said at a news conference that up to 23 traffic accidents might be related to the licenses. Some of these drivers are tooling around on the highways in 18-wheel cargo trucks.

Two defendants pleaded guilty to charges this week. Emma Klem (pdf), who worked in the Salinas DMV office, admitting changing DMV data to indicate that individuals had passed behind-the-wheel tests which they had not actually taken. School operator Sodhi Singh (pdf), who also assisted drivers in getting Class A, Class B, and Class C licenses, admitting accepting money to bribe DMV employees.

The other four were named in an indictment (pdf) filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California that accused them of conspiracy to commit bribery and identity fraud. The crimes were alleged to have taken place between June 2011 and March 2015.

Frank Alvarez, the DMV's chief investigator, told the Associated Press that subsequent investigation led to cancellation or revocation of 602 licenses. That includes the original 100. Alvarez said the drivers are not going to be prosecuted—just organizers of the scheme—and they can take the retest or apply for a hearing.    

Just about every news account includes a choice selection of DMV scandals. A San Diego DMV employee pleaded guilty in February to accepting bribes in exchange for ditching DUI suspensions and providing temporary licenses to the drivers. A DMV employee in Westminster was accused in March of taking bribes for licenses and a CHP officer was charged in June with accepting bribes for licenses in El Cajon.  

El Cajon was a hot spot for fraud and bribery last year. Thirty defendants, including DMV employees, pleaded guilty in February 2014 to bribery and ID fraud. “It was so blatant,” Special Agent Mike Peters said, “that our surveillance showed the driving school operator brokering multiple deals in the DMV parking lot.”

“They had gotten away with it for so long, that they were extremely confident and had no plans to stop,” Special Agent Kim George said.

“We hope this case sends a message,” Peters said at the time. “This type of corruption will not be tolerated.” The message is duly noted.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Feds Allege DMV Employees Sold Driving Licenses (by Denny Walsh, Sacramento Bee)

Feds Say California DMV Employees Traded Cash for Licenses (by Don Thompson, Associated Press)

Six Arrested in Latest of Several DMV Bribery Cases (by Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times)

California Motor Vehicle Employees Took Bribes to Grant Licenses: FBI (by Sharon Bernstein, Reuters)

Six Charged in Dirty DMV Scheme (by Elizabeth Warmerdam, Courthouse News Service)

Two Plead Guilty in Scheme to Bribe DMV Employees to Issue Commercial Driver’s Licenses; Four More Charged (U.S. Attorneys Office)

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