- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) canceled 1,016 licenses of drivers in Northern Virginia who failed to verify that they obtained their licenses legally.

The cancellation comes after a federal investigation uncovered a scam involving two former DMV clerks at the Tysons Corner branch who, for four years, illegally sold licenses to drivers who could not obtain legitimate licenses.

DMV officials said yesterday the 1,016 drivers either failed to respond to the department’s request for verification or their responses couldn’t be verified. As a result, those drivers can no longer drive legally, according to Pamela M. Goheen, agency spokeswoman.

In December, DMV notified 2,837 drivers who, between Sept. 28, 1998, and July 1, 2003, had used out-of-state licenses to get new ones from the two clerks. Earlier last year, the clerks were convicted of participating in a $1 million scheme that involved illegally selling licenses.

DMV said 1,821 drivers provided verifiable proof they got their licenses legally. The proof, usually information about the old out-of-state licenses, was verified with those states.

“We have a responsibility to make sure the person we’re issuing a driver’s license to is who they say they are, lives where they say they live and has met the requirements to indicate they are a safe driver,” Mrs. Goheen said. “The agency was obligated to make certain the transaction was conducted accurately and was valid.”

The DMV has no plans to penalize the violators beyond canceling the licenses.

Federal prosecutors estimated that the two clerks helped 1,000 motorists illegally obtain licenses by falsifying applications to appear as if some customers had turned in valid out-of-state licenses, reducing paperwork needed for a new license.

The scheme involved selling more than 1,000 licenses for $800 to $1,600 each. Some of those who purchased the illegal licenses had immigration problems or criminal records.

The clerks — Consuelo Onate-Banzon, 46, of Lorton, and Rony Razon, 31, of Vienna — pleaded guilty to document fraud last year.

Onate-Banzon was sentenced 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 DMV, this year, toughened regulations to get licenses in an attempt to close the loopholes that allowed seven of the 19 September 11 hijackers to get licenses and identification in Virginia.

The new law, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires Virginia drivers to provide one of several government-issued documents that prove they are either U.S. citizens or are here legally before they can obtain a license.

Before the law was changed in Virginia, proof of legal residency was not required. In some cases, a motorist could show only an affidavit signed by a friend attesting to their identity to get a driver’s license or other identification.

Mrs. Goheen said that the implementation has gone smoothly and that in the first month the new law was implemented, the DMV turned away less than 5 percent of customers for not having proper documentation.

The tougher rules have caused a run at the state Office of Vital Records in Richmond. The number of requests for birth certificates has jumped 16 percent from last year.

Walk-in requests — the quickest way to get a birth certificate — were up nearly 30 percent over last year. The office has received more than 43,000 walk-in requests so far this year, compared with about 34,000 requests in the like period last year.

State Registrar Deborah Little-Bowser said the office is seeing more problem cases such as persons who try to get birth certificates when no birth record is on file or who have been using a name other than their birth name and have not had it legally changed.

“There is the assumption that everyone born in the commonwealth has a birth record,” Miss Little-Bowser said. “That is not true. A lot of people are being surprised they don’t have a birth on file.”

In some instances, an older person was born at home in a rural area, and the physician or midwife did not file the papers to record the birth.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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