This article by Bruce Parker originally published May 12, 2015, on Watchdog.org. This is part 6 of the Drivers Licenses for Illegals Series.
MONTPELIER, Vt. — An investigation into fraudulent applications for Vermont driver’s privilege cards has spread to foreign countries, according to the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.
“We have seen people from other countries, and we have seen more than just North America as a continent,” Commissioner Robert Ide told Vermont Watchdog on Monday.
“We have seen people that we believe we can trace back to states of the former Soviet Union, and we have seen people who are of Middle Eastern descent who perhaps are still, you know, it’s hard to tell where they’re residing.”
In January, officials at the DMV confirmed discovering more than 100 cases of fraudrelated to Vermont’s driver’s privilege cards. In every instance, illegal immigrants living outside the state had falsified address information on license applications to obtain the credential.
While early reports traced the fraud to individuals living in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, this is the first acknowledgement that detectives are investigating people with ties to foreign countries and even other continents.
Presently, 10 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of driver’s permit to undocumented
immigrants. New Mexico and Colorado are taking steps to repeal their laws. Oregon and Tennessee, which formerly issued licenses to illegals, repealed their policies, in part due to widespread fraud.
Earlier this year, Demesia Padilla, cabinet secretary over the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, told Vermont Watchdog that investigators in that state had linked driver’s license fraud to international crime syndicates.
“We were seeing people come in not only from across the U.S., but from other countries,” she said, adding that New Mexico’s investigation was aided by federal agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We’ve worked with Border Patrol and with ICE because our fraud was coming from Mexico, Bolivia, China, the Middle East, you name it,” she said.
Asked if he would comment on how Vermont partners with federal agencies to track down ring leaders in other states and nations, Ide replied, “I don’t want to.”
According to initial reports, out-of-state immigrants told investigators they paid middlemen in New York City $2,000 for help obtaining Vermont driving cards. Padilla said individuals had paid “as much as $4,500” to get New Mexico driver’s licenses.
To obtain a driver’s privilege card in Vermont, undocumented immigrants must show proof of residency. Accepted proof includes (1) two pieces of mail received by the applicant in the past 30 days showing name and current Vermont address, and (2) an official document showing name and Vermont address, such as vehicle title, a bank statement, an insurance card, medical health documents or tax forms.
Over the past two years, New Mexico has indicted multiple individuals for forgery and conspiracy in running driver’s license schemes.
Asked how many people had been charged with a crime in Vermont, Ide replied, “We’re just suspending the driver’s privilege document. … I would say we’re not pursuing that.”
To gather additional details on the expanding scope of investigation, Vermont Watchdog reached out to Chris Cole, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which oversees the DMV.
When asked on Monday if he knew investigators had traced fraud to people in foreign countries, Cole replied, “I have no idea. It’s really a Department of Motor Vehicles issue.”
Without citing specific numbers, Ide said he was encouraged that new fraud cases have slowed considerably since late last year. He said national media attention was partly responsible for the slowdown.
“Since we’ve started to have so much publicity, the fraudulent types of applications have diminished greatly. I think people in the press have helped us with this message, and for some reason there are probably other jurisdictions that seem easier than Vermont at the moment,” he said.
When asked if new cases had been discovered in the past two months, Ide replied, “I think I have to answer yes.”
In January, the number of fraud cases was estimated at between 130 and 144. By late February, that number was revised downward to 103 confirmed cases. DMV Chief Inspector Captain Drew Bloom could not be reached Monday for updates on those totals.
Although Ide’s revelations may come as a surprise those who view privilege cards as a way to help roughly 1,500 to 3,000 migrant workers drive Vermont’s roads and highways, Ide said he is not surprised.
“I testified before the Legislature that the driver privilege card conceivably was going to have an attraction to anyone from any continent. … We absolutely predicted that was going to happen,” he said.