PHILADELPHIA – A grand jury report, which focused on deficiencies in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) security policies, was released Tuesday following an extensive investigation into the issuance of fraudulent driver’s licenses in Philadelphia.
Attorney General Tom Corbett said the ongoing investigation, which began in December 2004, has resulted in charges against more than 45 individuals accused of using stolen or fake identities to obtain Pennsylvania driver’s licenses.
The investigation has revealed that many individuals obtaining fraudulent Pennsylvania driver’s licenses have extensive and dangerous criminal histories, including individuals with prior arrests for drug-trafficking, aggravated assaults, criminal homicides and illegal gun possession.
Evidence and testimony regarding the investigations was presented before a statewide investigating grand jury, which issued their findings and the report being announced today.
PennDOT security in question
Despite the implementation of security features and technology, criminals are still illegally obtaining driver’s licenses and identification cards.
Corbett said that Robert Banks, 33, Philadelphia was charged today with obtaining and selling fraudulent Pennsylvania driver’s licenses.
The charges state that Banks obtained 45 fraudulent licenses between May 16, 2001 and January 2, 2003.
According to the criminal complaint, Banks worked with other Philadelphia residents to obtain false identification and documentation for his clients. Those clients were referred by middlemen, who worked with Banks and charged up to $200 per referral.
Corbett said that Banks charged as much as $1,250 per license and used an application process that was supposed to be limited to Pennsylvania residents in the military, stationed out of state.
Banks is charged with 45 counts of forgery, 45 counts of tampering with public records or information and one count of criminal conspiracy.
Origins of the fake license investigation
Corbett said that PennDOT initially referred an investigation involving French Driver’s Licenses to the Attorney General’s Office, in which more than 90 counterfeit French driver’s licenses had been exchanged for Pennsylvania licenses.
The French Driver’s License case resulted in numerous parallel investigations and referrals, including the sale of licenses through middlemen to over 200 individuals.
PennDOT protocols at the time facilitated the criminal activity by easily allowing the minimal security procedures in place to be avoided.
The grand jury found that between 2002 and 2004 agents from the Attorney General’s Office repeatedly disclosed the significant problems to PennDOT and suggested security policy changes that would keep criminals from exploiting the system.
However, PennDOT officials were reluctant to make any changes that would hamper their primary mission of “customer service.”
“Obtaining fraudulent identification is illegal, whether you are on the left or right side of the service counter,” Corbett said. “Security procedures and the accommodation of customer service are not mutually exclusive.”
The grand jury determined that PennDOT has a historic security leniency in the light of potentially devastating consequences of terrorists and other criminals being able to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses.
PennDOT procedures prior to March 2005
Prior to 1995, the Pennsylvania State Police were in charge of licensing.
The grand jury found that before April 2002, PennDOT’s computer system could only detect duplicate names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers within the system.
According to the grand jury, PennDOT used a program called Conversation 13 to verify Social Security numbers; however the process was still able to be overridden by employees. In 2004 they began a new phase of the program called Conversation 95.
The grand jury report states that PennDOT employees often bypassed the Conversation 95 program and used the older program, which allowed a driver’s license to be issued even if the Social Security number failed to verify.
Front-line examiners allegedly thought that they were supposed to bypass Conversation 95 if a Social Security number did not verify, and instead, process the application with the old program, in order to provide customers with the best and fastest service.
Corbett said that although PennDOT implemented electronic verification software, all other documents required to prove identity are visually inspected by PennDOT employees with no means of verification.
Additionally, learner’s permits are issued after passing a computer test with proper documentation, but no photograph is taken or affixed to the learner’s permit.
“A simple piece of paper with only a name and no photo identification can quickly become a valuable commodity on the streets,” Corbett said. “These permits can be sold or transferred to anyone, including criminals looking for a driver’s license in a different identity.”
Corbett said that many of PennDOT’s security problems were discovered in December 2004, after Eugene Cobbs fled a downed aircraft that was carrying a quarter ton of cocaine.
Cobbs allegedly walked away from the wreckage and checked into a motel using a Pennsylvania driver’s license in the name of Marquis T. Munroe.
The grand jury found that Cobbs was issued a driver’s license without having a verified Social Security number on the system.
“The Cobbs’ case sparked a review of other records, which revealed there were several others who had been issued licenses with unverified Social Security numbers,” Corbett said.
An internal investigation of PennDOT revealed that thousands of customers were issued driver’s licenses or identification cards with unverified Social Security numbers.
“Cobbs’ fraudulent driver’s license was just one of more than 5,000 records that were run through Conversation 13 when Conversation 95 was available,” Corbett said. “What is even more troubling, is all of the fraudulent driver’s licenses were processed in Philadelphia area Driver’s License Centers.”
Following the Cobbs incident, PennDOT preliminarily identified approximately 82 individuals who possibly possessed fraudulent licenses. Sixty-three licenses were allegedly obtained by providing fraudulent out-of-state birth certificates; nine were obtained using fraudulent social security numbers.
The grand jury found that PennDOT employees who overrode existing PennDOT procedures for verifying Social Security numbers were the same employees who were pressured by management to move customers through as quickly as possible and were also either improperly trained, or not trained at all.
PennDOT changes after March 2005
The grand jury found that after PennDOT became aware of the seriousness of the security problems, a directive was issued to all employees that Social Security number overrides were to immediately stop.
Corbett said that by March 2005, Conversation 95 was fully implemented and the previous program was no longer available to front-line employees. By October 2005, PennDOT began the process of reconciling more than 350,000 unverified Social Security numbers that were discovered during the ongoing investigation.
The grand jury found that although training had begun, no Philadelphia area received training in 2007.
“The crux of this problem was in Philadelphia area licensing centers,” Corbett said. “It was only after much prodding by the grand jury that PennDOT began to concentrate their efforts on the Philadelphia area.”
Use of facial recognition software
In July 2007, facial recognition software began to be used in the driver’s license renewal process. Photos were sent to a private contractor and run through software to determine if there were other photographs on the PennDOT system that matched.
Facial recognition software is a critical step in PennDOT security, which is specifically designed to prevent the issuance of new licenses to those who previously received a Pennsylvania license under a different name.
However, the grand jury found that PennDOT procedures undermine the effectiveness of the facial recognition software.
Driver’s licenses are still allegedly issued to customers regardless of whether they have duplicate photographs, and different identities of the system.
Corbett said that instead of refusing to issue a license, PennDOT sends the identification and then refers the facial recognition match to the Pennsylvania State Police for investigation.
“It is egregious for PennDOT officials to assume that they are addressing a problem, when in reality they are only scraping the surface,” Corbett said. “Performing a facial recognition check and then issuing a license through the mail to persons who likely have been issued fraudulent identifications in the past does nothing more than compound an already troubling problem.”
Corbett said that another recent arrest by his office shows the inefficiencies in PennDOT’s facial recognition software, which was implemented in July 2007.
According to agents, Maurice Davenport, a suspect in an unrelated phase of the office’s ongoing investigation, who had been at-large since January 2008, was arrested on Jan. 27, 2009.
Corbett said that prior to his January arrest; agents learned that Davenport was arrested in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties using a new alias, Paul Brewton.
Corbett said that Davenport allegedly procured a fraudulent Pennsylvania driver’s license on Feb. 17, 2008, using the Brewton alias. The Brewton identity, including the name, Social Security number, and date of birth all matched the identifying information of a male convicted of first degree murder in Philadelphia County and serving a life sentence since 1991.
As part of the Davenport investigation, agents contacted PennDOT to determine how Davenport was able to successfully obtain another fraudulent license. Davenport’s photo was allegedly extremely similar to his other two photographs already in the system.
According to PennDOT the reason the match was not detected was due to the use of a different facial recognition software package known as “face explorer.” This program contains an adjustable filter that allows PennDOT to filter potential matches that would normally be produced in the standard “investigative browser.”
Agents said the filter on the PennDOT software was set to the number 87 and the two photographs of Davenport already on the system had the numbers 85.1 and 86.1. Therefore, since they were less than 87, they were not produced as possible matches.
Corbett noted that these are not pictures that look like the defendant, but are, in fact, the defendant.
“PennDOT has clearly found a way around their security procedures for the sake of customer service,” Corbett said. “Officials pretended to make significant security steps, while simply limiting the task of searching for fraudulent matches on their system.”
The information learned during the Davenport investigation about PennDOT’s facial recognition software features was never revealed to the Attorney General’s Office, or the grand jury during the ongoing investigation.
Corbett said that to date, approximately half of the defendants charged as a result of the ongoing investigation have pled guilty and have received jail sentences. The prosecutions of the remaining individuals remain pending.
Corbett noted that this investigation is ongoing despite the grand jury report that has been issued.
The grand jury recommendations for PennDOT are below:
–amend the Vehicle Code so that PennDOT is compelled to cancel the licenses and identification cards of any person who has been issued a fraudulent product
–amend the Vehicle Code to prohibit PennDOT from issuing or renewing a driver’s license or identification card of any person who has previously been issued a fraudulent product
–consider the appropriation of sufficient funds to the Pennsylvania State Police so that they can appropriately fund and staff a unit of troopers specifically deployed to criminally investigate cases involving motor vehicle fraud, including license fraud
–hire and deploy more front-line staff in the Philadelphia area driver’s license centers
–increase the manpower in the Division of Risk Management, thereby increasing the attention necessary to suspected cases of fraud
–implement procedures where adequately trained employees at a driver’s license center are reviewing the documents submitted by customers seeking a driver’s license
–consider the possibility of a State Police presence at or near PennDOT driver’s license facilities, especially in the Philadelphia area, to deter individuals from committing crimes at those locations
–make it a policy that fraud prevention and security are not sacrificed in the accommodation of customer service.
–tighten interpreter rules; require interpreters to be certified by the state
–adequately train and test all front-line employees on PennDOT procedures and fraud detection
–provide refresher security training and testing on a regular basis
–require that new issuances of driver’s licenses be picked up in person at a driver’s license center so as to verify the identity of the person receiving it, and not placed in the mail as is currently being done
–swiftly discipline employees and supervisors who fail to follow PennDOT procedures.
–direct customers attempting to procure a driver’s license or identification card with suspected fraudulent documents, or who have been detected by facial recognition as already being in the system, to the local PSP barracks so that their identity can be resolved before the issuance of the license or ID.