Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A Virginia man who worked as a manager at a Department of Motor Vehicles office at Springfield Mall and his wife, a former DMV clerk, were arrested yesterday by federal agents on charges of selling valid driver’s licenses for as much as $3,500 each — mostly to illegal aliens.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said Francisco J. Martinez, 57, and his wife, Miriam, 56, both of Stafford, Va., have been charged with conspiracy to commit identification fraud and conspiracy to produce Virginia driver’s licenses by fraud, both felonies.

If convicted, they could get 15 years in prison and fines totaling $250,000.

Also arrested was Daniel Jose Guardia Lopez, 25, of Alexandria, a Bolivian national whom law-enforcement authorities identified as being in the United States illegally.

“The integrity of state driver’s licenses is critical to our commerce, as well as our national security,” Mr. McNulty said. “By arresting Frank and Miriam Martinez, we have eliminated a source of fraudulent driver’s licenses for criminals who want to conceal their true identity and others who are not qualified to legitimately obtain a Virginia driver’s license.”

The Virginia DMV has sought in the past three years to toughen regulations for driver’s licenses to close loopholes that let seven of the 19 September 11 hijackers get valid licenses and state identification cards in Virginia.

The new law requires Virginia drivers to provide a government-issued document to prove they either are U.S. citizens or are in the country legally.

But authorities said the protections offered by the new regulations were compromised by Mr. Martinez because of his ability as a DMV manager to issue and approve valid driver’s licenses. At least 40 licenses were issued to unqualified applicants since January 2004, including Mr. Guardia Lopez, authorities said.

Mr. Martinez managed the DMV Customer Service Center at the Springfield Mall and had been a DMV employee since 1990. At Springfield, authorities said he was the senior DMV employee and had direct supervision of the office’s operations and its 30 employees.

His wife worked as a clerk at the DMV office at Tysons Corner from 1996 to 1998 and again briefly in 2003. In July 2003, federal authorities arrested two other clerks at the Tysons Corner branch and four associates in a suspected $1 million scheme to produce and sell driver’s licenses to unqualified applicants between 1998 and 2003.

Yesterday’s charges, according to Mr. McNulty, stem from efforts by the Martinezes and Mr. Guardia Lopez to produce and sell authentic licenses to illegal aliens and other unqualified applicants. He said Mr. Martinez produced the licenses for immigrants located and sent to him by his wife and Mr. Guardia Lopez.

Mr. McNulty said Mr. Guardia Lopez found clients, collected and passed on fees ranging from $2,000 to $3,500 and relayed instructions from Mrs. Martinez to the illegals about when to go to the DMV office in Springfield to get their licenses.

“The arrest of this employee is disappointing, yet represents the agency’s vigilance and commitment to security in every facet of our operation,” DMV Commissioner D.B. Smit said. “Whether it’s attempted fraud by individuals outside of the agency or breaches of confidence from within, we will not tolerate illegal activity.

“We will continue to aggressively screen documents, conduct audits and quality assurance programs, investigate and prosecute offenders to protect the integrity of our agency, our hard-working employees and our services,” he said.

An affidavit in the case by FBI Agent Pamela Bombardi said Mr. Guardia Lopez decided to cooperate in the investigation after being approached by agents and agreed to make a monitored telephone call to Mrs. Martinez, during which he said he had two new clients — his cousins from Bolivia — and asked whether she could “handle” them.

Mrs. Martinez, according to the affidavit, later agreed to the deal, meeting with Mr. Guardia Lopez in Washington to exchange information and collect her share of the money.

Richard Griffin, an assistant secretary of state, said the case began with information developed by agents from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, based in Washington. He said the six-month probe included FBI agents and investigators from the Virginia DMV.

“As a long-term employee of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and a supervisor for the past four years, Martinez abused his position of leadership and public trust while lining his pockets with ill-gotten gain,” Mr. McNulty said. “Martinez may have run a lucrative criminal scheme for a while, but he will now pay a high price.”

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