TRENTON – Forty people – including six former Motor Vehicle Commission clerks, 21 customers, and 13 brokers and other intermediaries – have been indicted for allegedly participating in criminal rings that illegally sold New Jersey digital driver’s licenses to unauthorized persons at five local motor vehicle agencies, Attorney General Paula T. Dow, Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor and MVC Chairman and Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez announced today.
According to Taylor, the Division of Criminal Justice obtained six state grand jury indictments charging all 40 defendants with conspiracy, official misconduct and computer criminal activity, all in the second degree, and third-degree tampering with public records or information. Many defendants were also charged with second-degree bribery, and most of the clerks, brokers and other intermediaries face multiple counts of each charge. The second-degree charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and the clerks would face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole under New Jersey’s anti-corruption laws.
The defendants allegedly conspired in schemes in which brokers and MVC clerks sold New Jersey digital driver’s licenses to customers who did not have the required six points of identification. In some cases, the customers, who are foreign nationals, did not qualify for a license because they were in the United States illegally. In other cases, they lacked sufficient documentation. The customers paid between $2,500 and $7,000 for a driver’s license or license renewal, and the MVC clerks and brokers allegedly split the proceeds of the illicit sales.
The indictments were returned in November but sealed until yesterday because arrest warrants were pending against defendants. The indictments stem from cooperative investigations by the Division of Criminal Justice, Motor Vehicle Commission and New Jersey State Police. The cases involve MVC clerks at the Lodi, East Orange, Edison, Jersey City and North Bergen motor vehicle agencies. In the Edison case, a clerk pleaded guilty prior to being indicted.
“We have zero tolerance for corrupt motor vehicle clerks, who can undermine public safety through their access to personal information and their ability to issue driver’s licenses,” said Dow. “We know criminals seek black-market driver’s licenses to commit identity theft and fraud, and on 9/11, the terrorists used licenses from other states to help them carry out their deadly plots. We will continue to work with the Motor Vehicle Commission and New Jersey State Police to maintain maximum vigilance and aggressively prosecute these cases.”
“We want to send a forceful deterrent message to those who broker illegal sales of driver’s licenses and to clerks who might be motivated by greed to sell out the trust placed in them. They will be subject to lengthy prison terms,” said Taylor. “We urge the public to report criminals involved in the fraudulent identification market, who typically exploit the immigrant community, ripping off individuals seeking licenses and subjecting them to serious criminal charges.”
“The NJ MVC and our team of investigators believe the strict policies and procedures we have developed are working to help weed out fraud and abuse,” said Chairman and Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez. “Our goal is to ensure that we issue IDs only to those individuals that are who they say they are; there is only one record of that person in our system; and that this decision is based on current, valid and verified documents.”
“These charges prove that document fraud in New Jersey leads to hard time rather than easy money for the clerks and brokers involved in this crime. The fact that some people will pay thousands of dollars to illegally get a driver’s license shows how important this document is, and how far we must go to protect its integrity,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Fraudulent identification opens the door to terrorists and other criminals who intend to harm our citizens,” he added.
In the next few weeks, the MVC will begin the first phase of the roll-out of their Facial Recognition program with a briefing to representatives of the New Jersey law enforcement community. The program will use biometric technology to “scrub” the 17 million digital images in the NJ MVC database to detect licenses that have been obtained with fraudulent identities. The briefing will include presentations from investigators from other states where Facial Recognition programs have been successfully initiated or completed. The briefing will provide details on how these programs have been implemented and improved motor vehicle agency security as well as how they have benefited federal, state and local law enforcement.
The indicted defendants are charged in connection with a total of 40 specific instances when driver’s licenses were allegedly issued to individuals without the required six points of identification. However, the investigation revealed that the rings brokered the illicit sales of numerous other licenses. A number of cases against customers of the rings were resolved prior to indictment.
Each case involved a “broker” or brokers who would spread the word that for a price of several thousand dollars they would arrange for the customer to obtain a digital driver’s license or have a driver’s license renewed without the required six points of identification. In some instances, the brokers relied on “runners” to bring them customers. The brokers, in turn, worked with the conspiring MVC clerks to have the licenses issued, sometimes dealing with the clerks through a “middleman.” For example, the indictment involving the East Orange motor vehicle agency charges a clerk, two middlemen who were formerly MVC clerks, two brokers and five runners.
The broker or another intermediary would typically fill out the license application or renewal application form for the customer, so the customer would simply sign it. The broker would usually accompany the customer to the motor vehicle agency and provide specific instructions regarding approaching the conspiring clerk. The clerk would issue the license and falsely note in MVC records that the customer had provided sufficient primary and secondary documents to satisfy the six-point verification. In the Lodi case, the clerk allegedly used Social Security numbers stolen from an MVC database and fabricated information that the customers had prior Florida driver’s licenses. The broker or a runner would allegedly collect the agreed upon price from the customer, and the broker would coordinate the cash payments to the clerks and others who shared in the illegal proceeds.
The investigations were conducted by members of the Division of Criminal Justice MVC Unit, within the Specialized Crimes Bureau; the Motor Vehicle Commission’s Division of Security, Investigation and Internal Audit; and the New Jersey State Police Auto Unit Document Fraud Squad.
On March 30, 2010, Lorena J. Escobar, aka Lorena J. Uruena, 31, of South Bound Brook, a former MVC clerk at the Edison motor vehicle agency, pleaded guilty to an accusation charging her with second-degree criminal computer activity before Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan in Morris County. The state will recommend that she be sentenced to three years in state prison.
The following defendants were charged in the indictments related to the alleged criminal license brokering rings involving clerks at the five motor vehicle agencies:
LODI MOTOR VEHICLE AGENCY
MVC Clerk – Anne Marie Manfredonia, 43, of Little Ferry
Broker – Hildeberto Salinas, 43, of Carlstadt
1. Abraham Chali, aka Carlos Jacobo, 26, of Cliffside Park
2. Miguel G. Sacoto, 35, of Jersey City
3. Melvin Lita, aka Arben Lita, 33, of Fair Lawn
4. (Juan) Pablo Gavilanez, 26, of Irvington
5. Jose Pelaez, 26, of Bloomfield
6. Gustavo Pamavilla, 22, of Irvington
7. Roberto Yumbla, 27, of Irvington
8. Ana Altamirano, 39, of Newark
9. Ariolfo Altamirano, 42, of Newark
10. Luz Alvarez, 32, of Hackensack
11. Omar Avila, 33, of Newark
12. Claudio Angamarca, 26, of Newark
13. Aurelio Aju-Chitic, 31, of Fairview
14. Sandra Avendano-Marin, 26, South Hackensack
EAST ORANGE MOTOR VEHICLE AGENCY
MVC Clerk – Laquanda Murray, 28, of Newark
Jason P. Thomas, 28, of Irvington, a former MVC clerk
Tyrone Q. Canada, 26, of Hillside, a former MVC clerk
Martin A. Martinez, 53, of Newark. In a separate case, Martinez was indicted on Nov. 10 on first-degree charges of conspiracy and money laundering as a result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice into an alleged conspiracy to defraud the federally funded Women, Infants and Children nutrition program of more than $1 million using fraudulent vouchers.
Antonio Vasquez, 40, of Hillside
1. Virginia Martinez, 41, of Somerville
2. Guillermo “Willie” Prieto, 50, of North Bergen
3. Rogerio DaSilva, 36, of Cliffside
4. Gustavo Valencia, 68, of Morris Township
5. Domingos Bonela, 48, of Kenilworth
Indictment # 2
MVC Clerk – Rashaan A. Smith, 31, of Irvington
Jason P. Thomas (also charged in East Orange Indictment #1 above)
Tyrone Q. Canada (also charged in East Orange Indictment #1 above)
EDISON MOTOR VEHICLE AGENCY
Gustavo Valencia, 68, of Morris Township (also charged in East Orange Indictment #1 above)
Martha Jalil, 54, of Dover
Ricardo Jalil, 63, of Dover (Martha’s husband)
1. Delmis Urquia, 43, of Hackettstown
2. Fredy H. Quiroga-Cobos, 34, of Dover
3. Jaime E. Espinoza, 38, of Dover
4. Constantino Grandados-Hernandez, 41, of Dover
5. Julio C. Rios-Elejalde, 33, of Wharton
6. Carlos R. Ramirez-Yepes, 52, of Morristown
JERSEY CITY MOTOR VEHICLE AGENCY
Sonia Noel, 48, of Union City
Melody Noel, 26, of Union City (Sonia’s daughter)
Broker – Peter Loveras, 32, of East Rutherford
Customer- Hernan Chica, 53, of Hackensack
NORTH BERGEN MOTOR VEHICLE AGENCY
Clerk – Cristian J. Toledo, 33, of North Bergen
The cases were presented to the grand juries by Deputy Attorneys General Paul Salvatoriello (Lodi and Edison), Marysol Rosero (East Orange) and Frank Brady Jr. (Jersey City and North Bergen).
The indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
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