Headline Archives

Putting the Brakes on Driver's License Fraud


Operation Road Warrior

You're driving down the highway. A huge 18-wheeler passes you. You naturally assume the driver has been rigorously trained and tested on how to handle the rig and has been issued a valid license.

Most of them have. But not all, as the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Salt Lake City learned recently.

Until the JTTF (made up of the FBI, the Utah Department of Public Safety, the State Bureau of Investigation, and 10 other state and federal agencies) put a stop to it last month, truck drivers could obtain a Utah commercial driver's license without training, road testing, proper written examination, or identification -- creating not only a public safety threat, but a potential terrorism threat as well.

How did it work? The nearly year-long investigation -- known as "Operation Road Warrior" -- uncovered a scheme where people could just pony up $500 to $1,500 to one of three contractors for the Utah Driver's License Division. Fifteen minutes later, they could walk away with a document certifying them as competent to obtain a commercial drivers license from the state. For several hundred dollars more, they could even buy the answers to the written test.

The results? The three contractors -- known as "third-party testers" -- were indicted November 25 by a federal grand jury. Some 50 truck drivers were also charged and forced to surrender their licenses -- allegedly for using false Social Security numbers to obtain licenses, for violating their immigration status, or both. Most of the drivers have pled guilty.

The risks: In a tragic example of the dangers involved, one truck driver who got his license through an indicted contractor was charged in July with causing a fiery crash near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that killed a family of five. Although it is unclear whether he obtained his license illegally, the truck driver -- a Bosnian immigrant -- could not speak, write, or read English, much less take written tests in English. Another man licensed by one of the contractors was a deaf mute.

What's the terrorist threat? Commercial vehicles could easily transport people, weapons, chemicals, and hazardous materials for use in terrorist acts. None of those charged so far has been found to have ties to terrorist groups, but in the words of Utah Public Safety Commissioner Robert Flowers: "We figure if these individuals can get this license this way, could not a terrorist do it also?"

You already know the FBI is working with its law enforcement partners across the country to keep America's streets safe. By putting a stop to driver's license fraud, we're keeping the roads safe too.

Links: Social Security Administration Press Release | Related FBI Testimony
Photo courtesy of the Department of Transportation.