A multimillion-dollar computer system that will enable Motor Vehicle Administration employees to check pictures and fingerprints of license applicants will be proposed today by the state transportation secretary as a means of reducing fraud.
The new technology under consideration by Secretary O. James Lighthizer is aimed at stopping the issuance of bogus driver's licenses -- a problem that came to light nearly three weeks ago when an 18-year-old black murder suspect obtained a license at the Mondawmin MVA office in the name of his 37-year-old white victim.
A female employee who issued a license to accused killer Dontay Carter for a reported $50 payoff has been suspended and granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for her cooperation in a broader investigation of illegal activities at the MVA. She has been placed in protective custody, officials said.
But unknown is what information she has provided to police in Baltimore, where Vitalis V. Pilius was abducted in his car from a downtown parking garage Feb. 11 and then killed in a vacant rowhouse.
State police investigators examining MVA practices independently have not been able to link other employees to the issuance of fraudulent licenses, according to a state government source familiar with the probe.
How Dontay Carter, showing a driver's license with his picture and the name of the murder victim, twice managed to avoid arrest also remains under investigation.
Reports on the investigations are due in the hands of Mr. Lighthizer and Bishop L. Robinson, the state public safety secretary, by March 9.
In response to a reporter's questions, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Stephen G. Zentz said the MVA plans to request as much as $200,000 to explore new identification technologies and digital imaging computer systems.
Depending on the results of that study, he said, MVA would seek about $20 million in the state's capital budget, as early as fiscal year 1994, to buy an advanced new identification system.
The equipment would enable the agency to electronically store a copy of each driver's license photograph for comparison purposes and eventually could be used for fingerprints.
The photo system technology is already available, but adequate technology for fingerprint collection and analysis is still several years away, Mr. Zentz said.
The department also wants to look into technology that would compare motorists' signatures with all previous MVA transactions they have signed. This would safeguard against anyone attempting to copy a motorist's signature in dealings with the MVA.
Although people have been required to provide some proof of identification such as a birth certificate, MVA employees had no other way of verifying identities.
Mr. Zentz said that he knew of only one state, California, that has experimented with this developing technology.
The money for the new systems could come from the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund, possibly by increasing certain motor vehicle fees. Another possible source would be the proposed increase in the gasoline tax. Mr. Zentz said that if necessary, the costs of the new system could be spread over five to 10 years.
The department will announce today several other immediate changes to strengthen current procedures for obtaining driver's licenses because "we're trying to develop a more positive way of identifying people," Mr. Zentz said. "What we have today is not good enough."
Authorities have said that Carter, obliterated the photo on the driver's license of the murder victim and obtained a new one in his own name from the MVA clerk.
That revelation unleashed a flood of similar stories.
Mr. Lighthizer said, "There is no doubt that some fraud is being perpetrated on the MVA. But I don't think there is a massive conspiracy."
To insure the integrity of driver's licenses is going to cost the public more money and time when visiting MVA offices, the secretary said.
"If the driver's license is to be the end-all for identification, then we are going to have to spend a lot more time and a lot more money issuing the license," he said.
Mr. Lighthizer said that Mr. Rickert has done an excellent job over the past five years in providing quick, efficient service for the public.
"The retail people have got to shoulder some of the responsibility [for current problems]," he said. "To blame their woes on a clerk at Motor Vehicles is just not fair. For someone to rely on the driver's license in unreasonable fashion is not the fault of the MVA."
The transportation secretary cautioned the public against using driver's licenses as absolute proof of a person's identity "under current conditions."