MONTPELIER — Department of Motor Vehicles officials told the House Transportation Committee Tuesday that they are continuing to investigate fraudulent applications for the state’s driver’s privilege cards from out-of-state people.
According to DMV Commissioner Robert Ide, the Department is investigating 144 people that may have obtained a Vermont driver’s privilege card through fraud. It’s unclear how many of those applicants have received the card. Officials said Tuesday that not all of the applicants have been contacted by the DMV.
The driver privilege card was created and approved by lawmakers, and signed in to law by Gov. Peter Shumlin last year, to allow undocumented immigrants to secure the ability to drive.
Workers at the DMV office in Bennington flagged a number of applications for such cards after they noticed that many people were using the same addresses on their applications.
Ide told the committee that 144 possible fraudulent applications “does seem like a very, very big number to us and we’re certainly not pleased with that number.”
“Should it have been caught? We could argue that it perhaps should have been caught sooner,” Ide said. “Clearly, that’s not a good number.”
Michael Smith, the DMV’s operations division director, provided limited details because the investigations are ongoing. However, he said in some cases, the two pieces of mail with a physical address that is among the requirements to obtain a driver’s privilege card appeared to be suspicious.
A sample driver’s privilege card provided by the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Two different entities in the top left hand corner mailed to the same person on the front and it’s all in the same handwriting,” he said. “That’s where the questioning starts happening. When you’re in a small office and staff have been in that area their entire life they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, I know where that address is, it’s empty.’ That’s where a referral would be made to enforcement and safety.”
He said the ongoing investigations have also found that in some cases people are “allowing addresses to be used for compensation.”
“There are some people out there taking advantage and charging fees to help people that are not residents of Vermont get privilege cards in Vermont,” Smith said.
Rep. Timothy Corcoran, D-Bennington, said he voted against the creation of the driver’s privilege card last year because he had concerns with potential illegal activity. He questioned why it took so long for DMV workers to notice something amiss.
“How did we get that far and not catch it? It just seems like something blatantly went wrong,” Corcoran said.
Ide said workers are always looking for fraudulent activity, but also assume that applicants are providing honest and accurate information.
“We look for fraud in every area where we do business and we expect honesty from every person that we do business with. Whenever there is a new product there are opportunities for people who think in this way,” he said. “I want to stress that this is a very, very small number, but we are diligent.”
All cases of potential fraud are investigated when discovered, Ide said.
“When we have activity that is in our opinion suspicious we do examine it. Sometimes we find that our suspicions were not properly place and sometimes we find our suspicious are properly placed,” Ide said.
The driver’s privilege card that undocumented immigrants can obtain allows for a larger list of items that can be used as proof of identification than what is asked of those seeking an enhanced identification card that legal Vermont residents can obtain. To obtain the card at least two of the following items are required:
— A valid passport
— A birth identification
— Consular identification
Ide said the program has worked well in most cases.
“There are a number of cards that have been issued to what we all thought was the original target audience that have been issued properly and perfectly and those people are driving responsibly,” he told the committee.
The most problems have occurred in DMV branches closest to large, urban areas in other states. Those areas tend to be in southern Vermont, according to Ide.
DMV officials did not anticipate an influx of out-of-state undocumented immigrants seeking a driver’s privilege card in Vermont.
“The migrant worker in another state is not the audience that any of us thought that we were trying to get to. So, we continue to work very, very diligently and very fairly,” Ide said.
California recently approved a similar driver’s privilege card and officials there expect about 3 percent of applications to be fraudulent.
“I suspect that there will always be a certain amount of fraud in our industry,” Ide said. “It’s not exactly perfect. We wish it were more perfect.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 27.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, in an unrelated news conference Tuesday, said he continues to support the use of driver’s privilege cards for undocumented immigrants in Vermont.
“I’m confident that we’re on the right path making it possible for folks not to be isolated on farms, not to be able to get to the grocery store or the doc. Like any new effort, there’s clearly some areas where we need to make improvements and so I’m not surprised, particularly, that there’s a few bumps in the road,” the governor said. “I’ve asked my commissioners and others to work together to fix the bumps so that we make sure that we’re getting the driver privilege cards to the folks that ought to be having them.”
Shumlin said he wants officials to improve the system to prevent out-of-state undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s privilege cards in Vermont.
“We should not let that happen and I think administratively we’ve got some work to do,” he said.