More than five years after they were arrested, five of six suspects pleaded guilty Thursday to a Spokane-based scheme that allowed Bosnian nationals to fraudulently obtain Washington state commercial driver’s licenses.
At the time of the arrests in January 2008, federal authorities said an estimated 100 individuals – most of them Bosnian immigrants – each paid $2,500 to a commercial driving school operated by Brano Milovanovic and Tony G. Lamb, both of Spokane.
The graduates got commercial driver’s licenses recognized by Washington and other states. Commercial license holders can drive school buses and 18-wheel semitrucks, including those that transport hazardous and toxic materials.
Later that year, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Shea dismissed all the charges. The charges were reinstated last year by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Those originally charged with mail fraud and conspiracy charges were Milovanovic and Lamb, of Spokane; Ismail Hot, Elevdin Bilanovic and Aleksandar Djordjevic, all of Chicago; and Muhamed Kovacic, of Michigan.
Following negotiations, all but Djordjevic pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to possess identification documents to be used to defraud the United States. The misdemeanor conviction will not result in deportation of the Bosnian nationals, defense attorney Frank Cikutovic said.
However, the conviction would likely affect the immigration status of Djordjevic, who had his trial set for Oct. 22 on the original charges of mail fraud and conspiracy.
Assistant Federal Defender Robert Fischer said Milovanovic and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1997 from Germany after fleeing civil war in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
A naturalized citizen, Milovanovic pleaded guilty as part of the case where prosecutors alleged that he solicited Bosnian immigrants living elsewhere in the U.S. to pay him $2,500 each to attend his commercial driving school in 2006 and 2007.
Authorities said an estimated 100 individuals traveled to Spokane to attend the school and got their Washington commercial licenses using interpreters, violating state residency requirements by using Spokane addresses.
As part of the scheme, the Bosnian interpreters, including Milovanovic, not only read the questions but provided the answers, then paid cash bribes to a state contractor keeping test logs, investigators said.
In 2008, then-U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt called it a “driver’s license mill,” and the case led to changes in how the state administers its tests.