black market drivers license operation....right out of DMV!
Fierce Demand Drives Illegal-License Market
January 30, 2005
By Michael Riley and Alicia Caldwell
Denver Post Staff Writers
Photo: People wait in line Friday outside the Aurora office of the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Demand for driver’s licenses from
immigrants has spawned illegal sales.
For at least one of Colorado's undocumented immigrants, the express lane at the Aurora motor vehicle office ran through a middleman who used a
corner Conoco as an office and dealt only in cash.
For $1,000, the immigrant, a Mexican in his mid-50s named Martín, said he was promised the gold standard of identity documents: a real Colorado
driver's license with a DMV record that any police officer or bank could check.
As he negotiated to buy a license for his adult daughter, Martín was told that he and his daughter should meet the middleman at the Aurora DMV on
Sable Street, he said. As he recounted it later to The Denver Post, the three walked in, waited for the right clerk and approached the counter.
"We filled out a few papers. She signed them. We didn't even have to wait in line," said Martín, who explained the exchange on condition that
his last name not be used. "In 10 or 15 minutes, she had her license."
That was four years ago, but Martín and others agree the market among undocumented immigrants for a real Colorado license is still strong, even as
the price has risen to as much as $3,000.
That huge demand, discernible in whispers along the immigrant grapevine about the names and reliability of various license "brokers," is the
driving factor in the unfolding scandal at the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles.
A booming black market
Last month, two DMV employees and a third person described as an intermediary were arrested for allegedly selling licenses to immigrants and
others who were not legally able to obtain them. A third DMV employee was charged last April with forging state IDs, and investigators are trying to
see if there is an underlying connection between the three state workers.
But immigrants say that given what they know of the booming black market, it's unlikely that those are isolated cases.
In north Aurora, the metro area's landing pad for many new immigrants, Martín said he was buying a license for his adult daughter because,
despite years living in the United States, she couldn't insure her car or get credit without it. When he returned a few months later to get a license
for his son, the original DMV contact had either left or been transferred.
Other immigrants say similar schemes operate constantly, and several people interviewed over the past week said they knew at least one friend or
relative who had managed to purchase a DMV-issued license, almost always with the help of a middleman.
"No matter what it costs, you find a way to get the money," said Commerce City resident Rosario Hernandez, as she ticked off several people she
knew from work who had bought a license.
"I had a friend. She needed a license to get to work, to take her kids places. She paid $3,000" last year, Hernandez said.
Other states also plagued
To be sure, immigrants are not the only ones who are willing to buy driver's licenses. Other people legally barred from driving, such as those
convicted of drunken driving or who have had licenses revoked for other reasons, also fuel the demand. In some cases, non-immigrant drivers unable to
pass the difficult test for a truck-driver's license try to buy one instead.
Experts say the market for licenses tends to be driven by the modest salaries of state employees and a growing black-market value for the
documents over which these workers have control.
In confronting the challenge of the demand for illegal documents, Colorado is not alone.
Over a two-year period in the late 1990s, 144 California motor vehicle employees were fired or disciplined for illegal activity, largely driver's
license fraud. The situation has led to significant reform efforts.
But as safeguards increase, so does the street price of an illicitly obtained license - and the potential profit for state employees willing to
cross the line.
Patricia Kay, a clerk at the DMV in Glenwood Springs, was arrested in 2001 and accused of involvement in a conspiracy to sell as many as 300
licenses to undocumented immigrants.
The scheme involved passwords, clandestine meetings and large profits. Kay told police that she made upward of $40,000 selling licenses over a
period of three months.
The link between undocumented immigrants and the state employee was allegedly Virginia Escalante, the owner of a company certified by the state to
administer driving tests.
Escalante would gather personal information from immigrants to pass on to Kay. She met Kay at a local post office and a gas station where she
handed over envelopes stuffed with cash, sentencing documents say.
In one case outlined in court records, Escalante gave an undercover agent a password to use with Kay at the DMV. In another, Escalante met Alberto
Pizarro-Gonzalez, an undocumented immigrant, in a mall parking lot to set up the deal.
Escalante told Pizarro-Gonzalez a driver's license would cost $500 and he had to pay up front, records show. He was given Kay's description,
went to the DMV and got a license.
He later told police he never took a written driving test, nor did he provide information that he was a legal U.S. resident. Both Kay and
Escalante subsequently were convicted in connection with the case.
Daren Fox, a Glenwood Springs detective at the time, said at least four other people were suspected of being involved, including two other DMV
employees, but authorities could not get enough evidence to criminally prosecute them.
In another case, a third-party testing company has allegedly served as a conduit between a DMV official and immigrants or others willing to buy
Court documents detail a connection between a Weld County trucking school, which until last week was certified by the state to give driving tests,
and Janet Gonzalez, a Northglenn DMV employee accused of taking money in exchange for giving licenses to people who wouldn't otherwise qualify for
An employee of the school, Careers World Wide, allegedly gave a driving-school applicant a certificate of completion without having actually
administered a driving test, according to an affidavit filed by a federal agent.
"Portfolios" of fake IDs
Jeff Copp, head of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Denver, said that before undocumented immigrants try to get driver's
licenses - the most sought-after form of identification - they often will build up "portfolios" of fake documents.
Those include birth certificates, Social Security cards, green cards, worker permits and visas.
"They'll seek any document they can find to exploit so they can get another document," Copp said.
Frequently, immigrants will use these documents to try to get a legitimate driver's license, he said.
Copp said there are entire organized crime networks that specialize in creating these so- called underlying documents.
In October, investigators from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement busted two members of such organizations, known as the
"Castorena Family Organization" and "Los Acapulcos."
Authorities arrested two men, both undocumented immigrants, and accused them of manufacturing and distributing counterfeit alien registration
cards, driver's licenses and other identity documents. Authorities found a complete document- forging lab, including 15 computers used in the
Recent immigrant Jose Quijada-Lara, though he has legal immigration status and legally obtained a Colorado license, says he understands why people
will go to great lengths to get a fraudulent license.
Quijada-Lara spent two months last year trying to understand an English-language rule book - circling words he did not understand to look them up
later - in order to pass the test for a commercial truck driver's license. After failing the exam several times, he finally passed last summer,
earning a well-paying job as a truck driver.
"I see people, they sell their car, they sell other things," Quijada-Lara said. "They do whatever they can to get a license like this. Like me,
they want a better life."
None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free.