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Seven indicted in license inquiry

The suspects, all workers in South Florida license offices, are accused of taking bribes to issue licenses.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 21, 2001


TALLAHASSEE -- Seven state driver's license examiners from South Florida have been indicted on charges they took bribes to issue licenses and identification cards to unqualified applicants.

State officials say they found no link to any of the Sept. 11 terrorists, who also obtained licenses and identification cards in Florida.

Investigators identified 45 separate occasions in which unqualified license applicants paid bribes to workers in state license offices in Hialeah and Coral Gables in Miami-Dade County. The employees from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles were paid up to $1,200 for drivers' licenses, the statewide grand jury alleges.

"The crimes committed by these employees, motivated by greed, brought not only a cloud upon their offices, but jeopardized the safety and welfare of South Florida drivers," said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

Statewide Prosecutor Melanie Hines said the state employees issued 28 commercial drivers' licenses to people who did not meet the qualifications for the licenses. Others received licenses and identification cards who could not prove their identity or legal presence in the United States.

In all, there were 189 felony charges. The grand jury that returned the indictments was impaneled in the summer to focus on identity theft.

The investigation that led to Tuesday's arrests was sparked by Florida Highway Patrolofficials who noticed unusual patterns in the way some licenses were being issued. Officers worked under cover for 15 months while collecting video and audio tapes of the illegal transactions.

Since the investigation ended in July, all seven of the state employees have been on administrative leave and barred from working in the state offices. They were fired Tuesday after their arrests.

As a result of the investigation, Robert Sanchez, communications director for the agency, said the state has tightened hiring procedures for examiners.

The state will perform a complete background check, check credit histories, fingerprint and polygraph examiners before giving them a job. In addition, the state is installing surveillance cameras in some drivers' license offices.

Those arrested were being held for bails varying from $50,000 to $500,000. They were charged with racketeering, bribery, unlawful compensation, forgery and computer crimes.

They face maximum prison terms ranging from 20 to 570 years.

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