January 30, 2008 in City

Man held in driver’s license probe released

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A federal judge Tuesday agreed to release a Spokane man arrested last week by FBI agents investigating what authorities described as a commercial driver’s license mill that involved cheating on tests and bribes.

Brano Milovanovic, who operated a commercial driving school called CDL Consulting, isn’t a flight risk, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno ruled at a bail hearing.

She followed a recommendation from Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington and the U.S. Probation Office that Milovanovic, who has been in jail since last Wednesday, be released on a $100,000 property bond and $70,000 appearance bond.

The judge said Milovanovic would be released from jail immediately and have one week to make the arrangements for the bonds because of weather conditions.

The judge also ordered Milovanovic to stay within the Eastern District of Washington and barred him from doing any interpretation work, including assisting other members of the Bosnian community with claims with the state Department of Labor and Industries.

Several of his friends and family members were in court for the brief hearing.

“I’m very glad,” Milovanovic’s wife, Zeljka, said after watching from a front-row seat.

“I’ve been under a big stress,” the defendant’s wife said. “I heard on the news terrible things about my husband, and he’s not like that.”

Assistant Federal Defender Robert Fischer said Milovanovic and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1998 from Germany after fleeing civil war in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

Milovanovic is a Serb who was born in Mostar, Bosnia, part of the former Yugoslavia, Fischer told the court. His wife is Croatian.

“They (fled) with their 18-month-old daughter to escape the genocide” between Serbs and Croatians, the federal defender said.

Milovanovic’s passports were seized by FBI agents and he wouldn’t be welcome in his native homeland, Fischer said in explaining why his client wasn’t a flight risk.

“The Milovanovics are United States citizens and they’re not going anywhere,” Fischer said. “They’re here and they’re here to stay.”

The 48-year-old defendant is named in a grand jury indictment charging him with conspiracy and four counts of mail fraud.

A naturalized citizen, Milovanovic is accused of soliciting other Bosnian immigrants living elsewhere in the U.S. to pay him $2,500 each to attend his commercial driving school in Spokane during the past three years.

Authorities say an estimated 100 individuals traveled to Spokane to attend the school and got their Washington CDL licenses using interpreters, including Milovanovic, and violating state residency requirements.

The interpreters not only read the questions but provided the answers, then paid cash bribes to a state contractor keeping test logs, investigators said.

The CDL licenses were sent to various Spokane addresses that were mail drops, charging documents say.

Under reciprocal agreements, the Washington CDL licenses were then transferred to other states.

The director of Washington’s Department of Licensing came to Spokane last week and said her agency is revoking the licenses.

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