Officials to review all 124,488 CDLs in Colorado

| 1/28/2005

Colorado will check all 124,488 commercial driver’s licenses in the state to see whether fraudulent information was used to obtain them, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Revenue told Land Line.

The announcement that the state would undertake the check – which was ordered by Michael Cooke, executive director of the department – came after a series of reports in The Denver Post.

The newspaper reported Jan. 25 that Colorado’s Division of Motor Vehicles had revoked the licenses of more than 200 truck drivers and other CDL holders because the division suspected they were obtained with false information.

The Department of Revenue, which includes the motor vehicle department, was already under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the federal Department of Transportation after suspicions were raised that state employees were illegally selling driver’s licenses, the newspaper said.

The scandal continued to build Jan. 26, when the newspaper reported that 27 people who illegally obtain licenses through a Colorado truck driving school were responsible for 200 “serious” traffic and regulatory violations, as well as 26 accidents.

Diane Reimer, a public information officer with the Department of Revenue, said no timetable had yet been established for the checks.

“That’s not going to start just right now, and we don’t even know what form this will take,” Reimer told Land Line. “Obviously, we want to make sure that all of the CDL drivers are legitimate drivers.

“Some licenses were sold in this fraudulent effort to some folks who shouldn’t have had them. Either they were illegal immigrants, or whatever, and we’re just trying to address that.”

While the searches will initially focus on making sure that names match the Social Security numbers used to obtain the CDLs, Reimer said the state would be looking for anything in license information “that doesn’t quite jibe.”

“Spelling, address that doesn’t relate …, Social Security numbers, anything like that,” she said.

The check started with 250 letters sent out to CDL holders who received their licenses through two people who allegedly provided the documents to people using fraudulent information. Some CDLs were allegedly sold for up to $2,500, The Post reported.

Reimer said that in those letters, the state told the CDL holders involved that their licenses and driving privileges were immediately revoked, and that they needed to contact state officials immediately and provide evidence that their information is correct.

Some people who received the letters have already contacted the state, and some were able to clear up incorrect information and obtain new CDLs.

“There are some cases where a number might be transposed, and some simple things like that that can be corrected,” she said.

Reimer also stressed that many of the licenses issued by the two examiners were legitimate licenses issued to qualified drivers. And the state does not suspect that any other examiners had issued false licenses. But nonetheless, state officials felt compelled to undergo a more thorough check.

“If we’re going to really make sure that the truckers who are licensed in Colorado and who are on the roads are qualified to be on the roads, then we need to carry it this far,” she said. “We need to take it to this level.

“It’s a massive effort. We have this obligation to the public.”

Reimer said the state also wanted to assure drivers who received their CDLs using correct information that their ability to drive is not in danger. If their licenses are revoked, state officials will reissued the license “in a heartbeat” once correct information is provided.

A similar scandal in Illinois led the charges against – and convictions of – more than 60 people. The charges include former Gov. George Ryan, who is now awaiting trial.

That investigation, dubbed “Operation Safe Road,” initially focused on bribes exchanged for CDLs for unqualified truck drivers at the McCook CDL facility. The federal probe was later expanded to a range of alleged bribery and other corruption in the 1990s.

Ryan, who served as secretary of state from 1991 to 1999 – and therefore was in charge of McCook and other such facilities – has said he knew there was a culture of corruption in the secretary of state's office but said he was unaware of the specifics.

Two of the truckers who received the fraudulent licenses in the Illinois scandal were later involved in two accidents with a total of nine deaths. One of those incidents involved a fatal 74-vehicle wreck in 1998.

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor