At least 100 California commercial truck drivers did not take or did not pass the tests required for their licenses, which were sold by Department of Motor Vehicles employees to operators of truck-driving schools for as much as $5,000, according to papers filed by prosecutors in Sacramento federal court.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said at a news conference in Sacramento on Tuesday that the scheme resulted in the issuance of at least 100 fraudulent licenses. He said he is confident that crooks raked in “tens of thousands of dollars” in return for illicit licenses.
“It’s hard to know exactly,” he said. “We’re really not sure when they started.”
Thinking of “unskilled and untested” drivers behind the wheels of the huge trucks on the highways is “honestly quite chilling,” said Carol Webster, acting special agent in charge of investigations for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Sacramento, at the news conference.
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Frank Alvarez, chief of the DMV’s investigations division, said the division “received a phone call from a (department) manager” in 2012 regarding possible licensing “irregularities,” and the department has since revoked or canceled 602 licenses “that appear to have been obtained through fraudulent means,” including the 100 cited by Wagner.
He said individuals who held these licenses “can walk into any DMV office in the state and apply for a legitimate license.”
Alvarez and his staff are working with federal authorities in an investigation that has so far yielded charges against three former DMV employees and three truck-school operators.
One of the former DMV employees and a truck-school operator pleaded guilty Monday in Sacramento federal court to bribery-related charges. The other four defendants have been accused of bribery-related crimes in a 17-count indictment returned Thursday by a federal grand jury and unsealed Friday.
Wagner said bribes paid to the former DMV employees ranged from a few hundred dollars up to more than $5,000, depending on the scope of the unlawful services rendered.
Alvarez said the DMV has so far found 23 accidents involving drivers whose licenses have been revoked or canceled as “suspicious.” None of these drivers was holding a license counted among the 100 mentioned by Wagner, he said. He doesn’t yet know who or what caused these accidents, Alvarez said. There were no fatalities in the 23 accidents, he added.
The charges filed so far pertain primarily to obtaining or renewing Class A and Class B commercial licenses. To obtain a Class A license to operate such vehicles as an 18-wheel cargo tractor-trailer, drivers must pass both written and behind-the-wheel tests. Both tests are required for a Class B license, which allows a holder to drive any bus or truck except an 18-wheeler.
Emma Klem, a 15-year veteran of the DMV, pleaded guilty Monday to her role in conspiracies of bribery and fraudulent identity. She is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 17.
Klem, 45, was assigned to the DMV’s Salinas field office. As part of her plea deal, she admitted being approached in 2013 by Mangal Gill, operator of trucking schools in Fremont, Lathrop, Fresno and Salinas, who asked her to alter applicants’ electronic DMV records to falsely indicate that they had passed the tests for Class A and Class B licenses. Klem admitted that she performed such acts through at least March in exchange for money. Her gains had not yet been calculated.
Gill, 55, of San Ramon, is charged in the indictment. According to court papers filed by prosecutors, at various times in 2013 and 2014 Homeland Security investigators – at times using confidential informants or undercover agents – paid Gill to obtain commercial licenses. On one occasion, an informant paid him $5,000 to get a Class A license, for which the informant took neither DMV test, the papers say. Gill was arrested Friday in San Francisco and entered a not-guilty plea there before a federal magistrate judge, who released him on a $100,000 appearance bond and ordered him to report to the federal court in Sacramento this Friday.
Kulwinder Dosanjh Singh, who owns a Turlock truck school, pleaded guilty Monday in Sacramento to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and identity fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 17.
Dosanjh, 58, admitted an FBI confidential source met with him on April 11, 2013, and paid him $5,000 for a Class A license, without having to take either exam. The next month, Dosanjh returned the money to the FBI source and told the source that Dosanjh’s DMV contact was having trouble processing the license.
Christopher Morales of San Francisco, Dosanjh’s attorney, said his client is a good family man who recognizes that he erred when he “took shortcuts” to help members of the Indian community who had trouble passing the tests.
Pavitar Dosangh Singh, 55, of Sacramento, who owns and operates Sacramento Truck School, is charged in the indictment with conspiracy, bribery and fraud. He pleaded not guilty Friday and is free on a $50,000 appearance bond secured by equity in residential property.
Andrew Kimura, 30, of Sacramento is also charged in the indictment with conspiracy, bribery and fraud. The indictment says he was a licensing-registration examiner at the DMV’s Sacramento office. He pleaded not guilty Friday and is free on a $50,000 appearance bond co-signed by his parents and sister.
Robert Turchin, 65, who was a licensing-registration examiner at the DMV office in Salinas, is likewise charged in the indictment with conspiracy, bribery and fraud. He was arrested in San Jose on Friday and pleaded not guilty there before a federal magistrate judge. He was released on a $50,000 appearance bond and is to appear in Sacramento federal court on Friday.