10 Being Charged in Million-Dollar Scheme to Sell Driver Licenses to at Least 1,500 Illegal Immigrants
Eliot Klienberg, Palm Beach Post, Sep. 17, 2009
In the end, prosecutors say, it was sloppiness and vanity as much as anything that tripped up state examiners who investigators believe took perhaps millions in bribes to issue driver licenses to at least 1,500 illegal immigrants.
Ten people – four examiners at the license office in Delray Beach and six others who conspired to recruit them – have been or soon will be arrested, including two examiners who were charged when the ring was broken in May and who now face new conspiracy counts, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office said.
Assistant State Attorney Alan Johnson, Palm Beach County’s public corruption prosecutor, said the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is now working to invalidate the illicit licenses.
Examiners took fees ranging from $1,200 to $2,500 per license, witnesses told investigators.
An affidavit produced by the Florida Highway Patrol, which investigated the alleged conspiracy for the department, doesn’t give the total take, but the math suggests more than $1 million and as much as several million dollars.
Also, while the examiners took home less than $20,000 a year, they “openly and notoriously exhibited expensive personal items such as automobiles, home purchases, designer clothing, jewelry and accessories of an apparent cost far in excess of their means,” the report said.
Some of the predominantly Haitian, Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants might have wanted licenses so they could stay in the country, get a job, open a bank account and not live in fear that a simple traffic stop would land them in jail with the next stop their home country, prosecutors say.
Others might have wanted them to snare lucrative jobs as drug mules. With a valid license, they would not have to worry that, if stopped with illicit cargo, their cars would be searched.
Examiners kept count of how many customers they handled and each would meet after work, away from the bureau, with one of the outside ringleaders to be paid, the report said.
When investigators stopped one conspirator, Alex Adrien, 42, of Delray Beach, in April, a search of his car uncovered 20 counterfeit immigration forms, several blank forms, and nine fake passports along with ledgers containing dozens of names, with notations ranging from $480 to $1,200. Adrien later was deported to Haiti.