Washington’s Department of Licensing is taking steps to revoke the commercial driver licenses it granted to almost 100 truck and school bus drivers through a Spokane-based operation allegedly involved in a mail fraud conspiracy, Director Liz Luce said Friday.
The drivers, mostly from other states, used mail-drop addresses in Spokane, didn’t meet state residency requirements and were part of a scheme involving cheating and paying bribes to a third-party test evaluator, U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt said at a press conference with Luce.
The state licensing director credited the FBI with breaking up CDL Consulting, which McDevitt described as a “driver’s license mill” that primarily targeted Bosnian immigrants living elsewhere.
Two Spokane men, Brano Milovanovic and Suad Grebic, were arrested Thursday, and five other suspects are being sought on mail fraud and conspiracy charges.
David Gomez, a regional supervisor with the FBI, said the investigation involving his agency, the state Department of Licensing and the Washington State Patrol “was a textbook case of working together to close a loophole.”
The individuals who got their commercial driver licenses, or CDLs, from the Spokane driving school returned to other states where they were relicensed under reciprocal agreements with Washington.
Luce said she couldn’t begin the revocation process, using the Federal Motor Carrier Association, until the investigation became public Thursday.
While her agency could only cancel the contract with the private contractor involved in the fraud scheme, Luce said she is pleased the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office are pursing participants on criminal charges.
“I believe we have taken the steps to prevent this from happening (again),” Luce told reporters.
WSP Chief John Batiste, who also attended, said the changes will make the state “very bullish” in enforcing licensing procedures.
The licensing director said state budget cutbacks in the 1990s caused the department to lose employees, forcing the agency to hire outside contractors as testers for commercial driver license applicants. “I believe that opened the door,” the state official said.
Applicants can no longer choose their own testers, and state licensing personnel are now doing 60 percent of the test-evaluation work, Luce said.
Interpreters helping CDL applicants with written tests also are more closely screened, she said, after the investigation revealed that interpreters were not only reading the questions but also providing answers.
McDevitt said there were “huge loopholes” in the state’s CDL licensing procedures, including allowing applicants to bring their own interpreters.