The recent Florida drivers license scandal that led to the arrests of 52 persons, three of whom were driver license examiners and five alleged outside recruiters, rekindles the question of how large are the holes in the commercial vehicle driver license (CDL) authorization net.
Of the arrests, 36 had obtained either Florida state CDLs, certifications to haul hazardous materials or access to the ports of South Florida. However, the number of fraudulent CDLs issued may turn out to be staggering.
“The total number of drivers licenses issued is believed to be in the thousands over the term of this criminal network,” Nina Pruneda, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement spokesperson told Fleet Owner. Pruneda declined to comment on the number of CDLs or hazardous material endorsements that might have been issued among these thousands of fraudulent licenses, because it is still under investigation.
According to criminal complaints, the five recruiters allegedly targeted illegal immigrants, who paid recruiters a fee in the range of $1,500 to $3,000, while the examiners received $100 to $200 per license. “The total number of countries represented in the arrests is 14,” Pruneda said, adding that the aliens were from countries such as Guinea, Pakistan, Israel, Haiti, Jamaica, Libya and Kuwait. “They are foreign nationals who were in the country illegally, either by overstays of visa or by entry into the country without inspection.”
Frank Penela, spokesman for the Florida Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, stressed that the crackdown was initiated by a self-audit. “It’s our internal auditing that caught [the scheme] right away,” Penela told Fleet Owner, adding that the three state employees were terminated . “We’re pleased that our systems were in place to catch this right as it was happening. [The self-audits] are conducted on a random basis. It’s always a surprise and nobody knows when is that going to happen. And because they don’t know, that hopefully serves as a deterrent from these behaviors.”
Self-audits are mandated at a state level, but not federally.
“All motor vehicle agencies are certainly increasingly concerned about fraudulent activities in motor licenses and they’re ramping up efforts,” Jason King, spokesman for the American Assn. of Motor Vehicle Administrators told Fleet Owner. “However, the bottom line is that there is no consistent procedure state-by-state on how to detect fraud.”
“State motor vehicle administrators are looking to employ more stringent checks and balances to detect these cases of fraud,” King continued. “In fact, usually it’s the DMV [state Dept. of Motor Vehicles] that initiates these types of investigations and it’s the DMV that’s catching these folks.
“No motor vehicle administrator wants to issue a CDL to someone that’s unfit to drive any more than they want to issue ID credentials to the next terrorist-- these are two separate issues,” he added.
The Dept. of Transportation is aware that there is room for corruption in the issuance of CDLs. DOT Inspector General Kenneth M. Mead made specific comments on the issue in his testimony before the Senate commerce committee meeting on the highway bill last month.
“We have found far too many CDL fraud schemes—in 23 states—and identified more than 8,000 drivers who had obtained their CDLs through state employees or third-party examiners suspected of fraud,” Mead said.
Mead indicated that he would like to see a federally mandated anti-corruption policy that targets state motor vehicle license examiners.
“We have recommended that FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) also require states to adopt effective CDL counter-fraud methods, including covert test methods, which include having police officers pose as applicants,” Mead testified before the Senate committee. “These methods have been successfully used in Pennsylvania and Georgia, and should be required in all states.
“We have also recommended that when corrupt examiners are caught, the holders of CDLs approved by those examiners be retested,” Mead continued. “FMCSA officials recently advised us that they are assessing whether it has the regulatory authority to order states to use covert counter-fraud methods and retest suspect CDL holders. If the FMCSA determines it does not have the authority, it should seek authority from Congress.”
Although it is possible that prospective drivers with bogus licenses may be denied jobs based on criminal and credit background checks, that does nothing to red flag the validity of a CDL or a hazmat endorsement, said Cliff Harvison, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers Assn. “This involves state employees who allegedly corrupted the process,” Harvison told Fleet Owner. “The employer has no resources to challenge the validity of the hazmat endorsement.
“There are two factors that employers take in consideration: One is validity of current endorsement and there’s little a carrier can do to question, challenge or verify this. Secondly an employer can conduct personal checks, such as credit background checks, that have little or nothing to do with the validity of the endorsement,” Harvison said. “They might find out they’re bankrupt, maybe they’ve had a problem with drugs or alcohol, but that’s completely separate from the validity of the endorsement.”
Dick Henderson, director of government affairs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, told Fleet Owner that he is confident that truck inspectors, even when given a fraudulent “genuine” CDL, would be able to recognize unqualified drivers. “We could find the problem at that level, but no one knows how long he’s been on the highway before we find him,” Henderson said. “Inspections are done at a random basis and it serves as a deterrent but there’s a lot of room for these people to be driving around before they’re caught.
“But clearly something has to be done on the administrative side. That truck with the unqualified driver could be out for quite some time and no one would know it until there is a violation,” Henderson added.