This article by Bruce Parker originally published Feb. 26, 2015, on Watchdog.org. This is part 4 of the Drivers Licenses for Illegals Series.
MONTPELIER, Vt. — An investigation into fraudulent applications for Vermont’s driver’s privilege cards has spread to multiple states and Department of Motor Vehicle branches, according to the department’s chief investigator.
When the Department of Motor Vehicles first reported receiving a rash of driver’s license applications from out-of-state illegal immigrants, it appeared the problem might be limited to a single license branch and involve one other state.
But the investigation’s chief inspector on Tuesday told Vermont Watchdog the scope of the investigation has widened to multiple states and to all DMV branches.
“It’s a blend of states. It’s been New York, it’s been Massachusetts, and there was New Jersey in there, as well,” said captain Drew Bloom, chief inspector at the Department of Motor Vehicles Enforcement Division.
“There’s no one particular branch that’s being investigated. It’s primarily been our branches in the southern part of the state, but there have been numerous branches where people have gone.”
On Jan. 8, the Brattleboro Reformer reported the Department of Motor Vehicles had received 130 falsified applications for driver’s privilege cards. The cases included applicants from New York City who admitted paying a middleman $2,000 for help obtaining licenses.
This week, Bloom revised that number to reflect only cases that have been fully vetted as fraudulent.
“We have confirmed that 103 of those have been fraud. Every single one of these has been falsifying address information,” Bloom said.
While Bloom confirmed those driver’s privilege cards have received suspension requests and “are cancelled at this point,” he clarified the investigation would continue because applications keep coming into the state.
“It’s ongoing. You need to realize, too, that was the initial number we estimated, but there are still new cases coming in all the time. It’s not like this is our number we’re going to investigate and this is the end of this,” he said.
With backing from Gov. Peter Shumlin and migrant rights groups, the Legislature in 2013 passed a law enabling undocumented immigrants to drive legally in Vermont. Ten states offer driver’s licenses or cards regardless of immigration status.
To obtain a driver’s privilege card in Vermont, immigrants without legal presence in the U.S. must prove identity and date of birth; provide a Social Security card, or equivalent authorized letter from the Social Security Administration indicating ineligibility; and exhibit two pieces of mail received by the applicant in the prior 30 days showing current name and residential Vermont address.
They must also provide an official document such as a bank statement, insurance document, federal tax document or vehicle registration, as further proof of residency.
If other states are any indication, the fraud may be far more widespread than originally thought.
In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez is backing a bill to repeal the law allowing immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
New Mexico state Rep. William Rehm, R-Albuquerque, told Vermont Watchdog the problem has spiraled out of control.
“It is a total mess out here. We have issued over 100,000 driver’s licenses, and of that hundred thousand, less than 17,000 filed tax returns in New Mexico,” Rehm said.
As is the case in Vermont, applicants seeking New Mexico’s licenses have been caught falsifying information to meet the residency requirement.
“We had 40 some odd licenses issued to people living at that one location. … It has been a total nightmare,” Rehm said.
“What we find here is, when you make up a false residency, now you are presenting a forged document to the DMV, and that’s a felony. And then, under the penalty of perjury, you are affirming to DMV that it is truthful.”
Unlike Vermont, which hasn’t charged anyone of committing a crime, New Mexico has indicted multiple individuals on felony criminal charges.
According to a news release from the State of New Mexico Taxation & Revenue Department, an Albuquerque grand jury in May 2014 indicted a city resident and two illegals from New York in separate schemes to fraudulently obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses.
Daniel Salido, the Albuquerque resident, was caught after he charged an illegal immigrant living in Georgia $2,000 for help obtaining a New Mexico driver’s license. Salido had been running a five-year scheme.
The two New York residents, Manuel Chimbo-Pando, of Ecuador, and Carlos Turcios, of El Salvador, traveled to Albuquerque to obtain licenses after responding to a newspaper advertisement with a phone number traced to Washington state. To obtain licenses, the two men wired $1,500 to the bank account of a woman who provided fake lease agreements for Albuquerque.
According to Rehm, scammers use the licenses to drive, but also to appear as legal residents and to obtain common benefits associated with the credential. He added that New Mexico licenses can be traded in for valid licenses from states that do not issue licenses to illegals.
When asked why out-of-state illegals were applying for Vermont’s cards, Bloom said they have multiple uses.
“It could be anything. It could be simply to drive, or it could be to use it to try to get a stronger, better credential in another state. It could be used to get different types of documents,” he said.
Bloom called the investigation a “very labor-intensive and onerous process” and said it would be ongoing due to a continued stream of applications.
“False statement application cases are nothing new; that’s been our bread-and-butter for a long time. But it’s the volume of the influx of applicants we’re getting that don’t reside here,” he said
“If we have reason to believe the person is not (a resident), and is falsifying their application or any of the documents in support of that, we have a legal obligation to vet that through our investigative process.”