Update: Illinois CDL scandal nets another conviction

| 11/26/2001

A Florida truckdriving school instructor pleaded guilty Nov. 19 in federal court in Chicago to traveling across state lines in aid of racketeering. The latest plea brings to 41 the number of convictions from Operation Safe Road, a federal investigation into the selling of commercial driver licenses that began in Illinois about three years ago and later expanded to Florida.

Hilary Marek Winniczek, of Tampa, FL, helped at least 1,000 truckdrivers obtain their licenses through bribery. He faces up to three and one-half years in prison when he is sentenced in February.

From 1996 to 2000, authorities claim many Eastern European immigrants with limited English skills went to Florida to get their CDLs. The wannabe truckers forked over as much as $1,300 each in bribes to Winniczek.

Logbooks at REACT Inc., a Tampa driving school where Winniczek worked as an examiner, indicated about 2,000 applicants obtained their licenses under suspicious circumstances, according to published reports. As a result of the cheating, Florida motor vehicle officials revoked the licenses of 519 truckers and notified authorities in other states of an additional 250 suspect drivers.

On written tests, Winniczek helped applicants get around the language barrier many faced. He reportedly acted as an interpreter - which is legal in Florida - but used code words and gestures to signal the correct answers.

In some cases, the applicants were such poor drivers that he reportedly refused to ride in the truck with them to conduct road tests, fearing for his own safety. Authorities claim Winniczek pulled in more than $800,000 in bribes over the course of the four-year scheme.