- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Thousands of Northern Virginia drivers face losing their driver’s licenses if they fail to respond to a warning letter by next month, state Department of Motor Vehicles officials said yesterday .

The roughly 2,800 drivers sent the letters were singled out because they received new licenses at the Tysons Corner branch from two employees sent to federal prison this month in connection with a $1 million scheme that involved illegally selling licenses.

“If [drivers] don’t respond within the deadline, unfortunately, they are going to get their license canceled,” said Anne Atkins, agency spokeswoman. “We want to make sure they are all legal.”

The letters were mailed Dec. 15 to the 2,800 motorists who used out-of-state licenses to get new licenses from the two employees from Sept. 28, 1998, to July 1, 2003.

Federal prosecutors estimate that the employees helped 1,000 motorists illegally obtain licenses.

The clerks falsified applications to appear as if some customers had turned in valid out-of-state licenses, which reduces paperwork for a new license, according to court records.

The drivers who received the letters have until Jan. 15 to send the agency information about their out-of-state licenses. They will have no problem if the agency can verify the information with that state. However, those who miss the deadline because, for example, because they never got the letter will have their licenses canceled automatically, Miss Atkins said. She also said the agency will not send follow-up notices.

Miss Atkins said the agency has no estimate on how many drivers among the 2,800 in question received illegal licenses. The agency already has received some responses, but it has no official count on how many motorists have been cleared from the list, she said.

Agency spokeswoman Pamela M. Goheen said those who have their licenses canceled will receive notices.

“If anyone who applied for and received a license legitimately doesn’t meet the Jan. 15 deadline, we will work with that customer to make sure they have a driver’s license,” she said.

The agency does not expect those who received the illegal licenses to respond to the letter.

The agency has no plan to punish violators beyond revoking their licenses.

The two clerks — Consuelo Onate-Banzon, 46, of Lorton, and Rony Razon, 31, of Vienna — were arrested July 2 in connection with the suspected $1 million scheme to produce and sell authentic Virginia driver’s licenses to unqualified applicants during the past five years.

The clerks pleaded guilty to document fraud. Onate-Banzon was sentenced this month to 41 months in federal prison and had to forfeit $200,000 in illegal earnings. Razon was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and had to forfeit $100,000.

The scheme involved selling more than 1,000 licenses for $800 to $1,600 each to buyers who otherwise could not obtain legitimate licenses. Some of the applicants needed the illegal licenses, because they had immigration problems or criminal records.

Starting Jan. 1, Virginia drivers must provide one of several government-issued documents proving they are either U.S. citizens or are here legally to receive a license.

The law passed by the General Assembly last spring is an attempt to close the loopholes that allowed some of the September 11 hijackers to get licenses and identification in Virginia. Seven of the 19 hijackers had obtained false Virginia documents. But there is no evidence of a terrorism connection in the Department of Motor Vehicles case.

The law applies only to new applicants and those who have expired, suspended or revoked licenses, not to those seeking to renew valid licenses.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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