7 Fla. driver's license examiners indicted in bribery

Investigators find no link to terrorist activities

November 23, 2001|By SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

A statewide grand jury has indicted seven South Florida driver's license examiners, alleging they accepted bribes to provide unqualified people with licenses and identification cards - and then entered the information into a state database, state prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, the Florida Highway Patrol arrested Maria C. Del Guidice, 46, of Pembroke Pines; Maritiza M. Fernandez, 40, of Virginia Gardens; Tyrone Gilchrist, 33, of Miami; Jose Nuqez, 43, of Pembroke Pines; Ana R. Sosa, 30 of Miami; and Audrey Hines Williams, 36, of Opa-Locka.

All worked at the Hialeah driver's license office at 1293 W. 60th St. Also arrested was Justo Jose Echavarria, 41, who worked at the Coral Gables office at 4250 Ponce de Leon Blvd.

The seven examiners, who have been on paid leave, were all arrested at home and later booked at the Miami-Dade County Jail, where they were held on bonds that ranged from $50,000 to $500,000.

All seven were fired Tuesday.

In total, the examiners were charged with 189 felony counts, including racketeering, bribery, unlawful compensation, forgery and computer crimes.

They face maximum prison sentences of from 20 years for Gilchrist to 570 years for Nuqez, prosecutors said.

The charges resulted from a 15-month investigation, during which investigators used both audio- and videotape to record examiners being paid off.

As a result of the alleged corruption, 28 commercial driver's licenses or temporary licenses qualifying truckers to take road tests were issued to people who did not qualify for them or who would not undergo examinations to obtain them legally, said statewide prosecutor Melanie Ann Hines.

"Regular licenses and identification cards were also issued to individuals who could not provide documentation to prove their identities and/or their legal presence in the United States," Hines said.

Prosecutors said they were aware of no links between the fraudulently obtained licenses and identification cards and terrorism.

But in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and reports that some of the alleged hijackers were carrying false identification, several states, including Florida, are pursuing changes in the way residents obtain a driver's license.

Under an executive order signed in October by Gov. Jeb Bush, foreigners applying for new licenses in Florida will get 30-day temporary permits while police examine copies of identification documents.

If they are cleared, the foreign applicants will be granted licenses that expire at the same time as their visas.

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