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December 09, 2011

40 people indicted throughout New Jersey for sale of illegal drivers’ licenses

By NACE NAUMOSKI
     On the Law

  Forty individuals, including six former Motor Vehicle Commission (“MVC”) clerks, 21 customers, and 13 brokers, were indicted for allegedly participating in a scheme to illegally purchase and sell New Jersey digital driver’s licenses at five local motor vehicle agencies.  Six separate grand jury indictments, which were originally issued in November, but were unsealed today, charge the defendants with second-degree conspiracy, second-degree official misconduct, second-degree computer criminal activity, and third-degree tampering with public records or information.  The second-degree charges carry a prison sentence between five and ten years.  In addition, the MVC clerks that were charged would face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole under New Jersey’s anti-corruption laws.

   State law enforcement officials are alleging that the defendants conspired in schemes in which brokers and MVC clerks sold New Jersey digital driver’s licenses to customers who did not qualify for New Jersey drivers’ licenses or did not have the required forms of identification to obtain a New Jersey driver’s license. The customers allegedly paid between $2,500 and $7,000 for a driver’s license.  Prosecutors say that a number of cases against customers of the rings were resolved prior to indictment.

   The state’s version of the facts, as presented to the grand juries, is that a “broker” or brokers spread the word, often through the use of so-called “runners,” to potential customers that they could procure a driver’s license without the required proofs of identification in exchange for several thousands of dollars. The brokers, in turn, allegedly used the motor vehicle clerks to bypass the normal requirements and to issue illegal licenses. The clerks would then issue the licenses and falsely note in MVC records that the customers had provided sufficient primary and secondary documents to satisfy the six-point verification.  The scheme allegedly involved clerks at the MVC agencies in Lodi, East Orange, Edison, Jersey City and North Bergen.

   Normally, when an individual is convicted of a second-degree crime, he can be sentenced to between five and ten years of state prison; however, unless there is a law that provides otherwise, he is eligible for parole at the earliest time possible under the parole guidelines.  This is referred to as “flat” time.  Although the parole guidelines are very complex, in general, a five year “flat” sentence would result in the individual serving approximately one year and five days before he can become eligible for parole--if he receives all of the possible credits.

   However, under New Jersey’s anti-corruption laws, “a person who serves or has served as a public officer or employee under the government of this State, or any political subdivision thereof, who is convicted of a crime that involves or touches such office or employment…shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment without eligibility for parole as follows: for a crime of the fourth degree, the mandatory minimum term shall be one year; for a crime of the third degree, two years; for a crime of the second degree, five years, and for a crime of the first degree, 10 years.”  A crime that involves or touches the office or employment of the public official “means that the crime was related directly to the person’s performance in, or circumstances flowing from, the specific public office or employment held by the person.”

   The mandatory minimums apply to convictions for criminal coercion, theft by deception (if the amount involved exceeds $10,000), theft by extortion, failure to make required disposition of property received (if the amount involved exceeds $10,000), commercial bribery, money laundering, false contract payment claims, bribery in official matters, threats and other improper influence in official and political matters, unlawful business transactions, acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit, offer of unlawful benefit, perjury, witness tampering, tampering with public records, compounding, official misconduct, speculating or wagering on official action or information, and pattern of official misconduct.

   The threat of mandatory minimum prison terms often results in criminal prosecutions against public officials being resolved by a plea agreement.  Another huge hurdle for defense attorneys in white collar prosecutions that involve a large number of people is that many people are willing to cut deals in exchange for their testimony against others in the case.  In this matter, many of the so-called “customers” involved in the scheme have already resolved their cases through pre-indictment deals. This most likely means that prosecutors have already secured their testimony against the more important targets, such as the MVC clerks.  However, this also leaves open avenues of potent defense cross-examination because the customers have a motive to fabricate.

   Nace Naumoski is a New Jersey criminal defense attorney, with offices in Totowa and Elizabeth.

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