MORE than 100 commercial driver’s licences (CDLs) are believed to have been issued illegally in California because South Asian truck driving school owners bribed state Department of Motor Vehicles employees, say U.S. federal authorities.
“This scheme enabled unqualified drivers to obtain licenses to operate all types of commercial vehicles,” said Tatum King, acting special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in San Francisco. “The implications of putting untrained drivers behind the wheel in such cases is frankly chilling.”
Two defendants, including a DMV employee, pleaded guilty on Tuesday in Sacramento, California, to their roles in a conspiracy to sell Class A commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) without the buyer having to take or pass the required tests. Four more persons, including two other DMV employees, were charged in a 17‑count indictment.
According to court documents, between June 2011 and March 2015, three owners of truck driving schools acted as brokers who accepted money from individuals who wanted Class A CDL without having to take and pass the required written and behind-the-wheel driving tests. The brokers used the money to bribe DMV employees to access the DMV’s computer database to submit false information that the individuals had passed the tests. This resulted in the DMV issuing official driver’s licenses to individuals who were not qualified to receive such licenses.
Emma Klem, 45, of Salinas, a DMV employee who worked in a Salinas DMV branch, and trucking school owner Kulwinder Dosanjh Singh, aka Sodhi Singh, 58, of Turlock, were charged earlier in separate criminal pleadings and entered guilty pleas this morning to conspiracy to commit bribery and to commit identity fraud.
The indictment, returned Thursday and unsealed Friday last week, charges trucking school owners Pavitar Dosangh Singh, aka Peter Singh, 55, of Sacramento; and Mangal Gill, 55, of San Ramon; and DMV examiners Andrew Kimura, 30, of Sacramento; and Robert Turchin, 65, of Salinas, with conspiracy, bribery, and fraud in connection with identification documents. The indictment specifically references the involvement of Klem and Sodhi Singh.
In order to obtain a Class A CDL to operate a commercial truck, such as an 18-wheel cargo truck, applicants must pass both a written test, which is offered in many DMV locations including Sacramento, and a behind-the-wheel test that is offered in a limited number of DMV locations including Salinas. These charges announced are the result of investigations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and DMV Investigations which originated separately, but which combined in the course of the investigation.
The indictment charges three conspiracies:
* The first began in approximately June 2011 and involved Kimura, Peter Singh, and Gill, who conspired with Klem and Sodhi Singh to obtain Class A CDLs for individuals who had not taken or passed the necessary DMV examinations in return for the payment of money to employees of the DMV (bribery), and to produce identification documents without lawful authority (ID fraud).
The indictment alleges that Kimura was a Licensing Registration Examiner who worked in the DMV’s office in Sacramento. He processed applications for Class A and Class B commercial and Class C non‑commercial driver’s licenses.
Peter Singh owned and operated a truck driving school in Sacramento and acted as a broker to assist individuals in obtaining Class A, Class B, and Class C driver’s licenses. Gill owned and operated trucking schools in Fremont, Lathrop, Fresno, and Salinas and acted as a broker to assist individuals in obtaining Class A, Class B, or Class C licenses.
Sodhi Singh owned and operated a truck-driving school in Turlock and also acted as a broker to assist individuals in obtaining Class A, Class B, and Class C licenses. Klem was a Motor Vehicle Representative who worked in the DMV’s office in Salinas. Part of her job duties included processing applications for Class A, Class B, and Class C licenses.
* The second alleged conspiracy to commit bribery and ID fraud involved Gill, Klem, and DMV employee Robert Turchin, who was a Licensing-Registration Examiner working at the DMV facility in Salinas. According to the indictment, from July 2012 until April 2015, Gill acted as a broker for individuals who desired to obtain Class A or Class B CDLs without taking the requisite DMV examinations. He paid Turchin and Klem and other DMV employees to alter DMV records so that Class A and Class B CDLs would be issued to individuals who were not qualified to receive such licenses.
* According to the indictment, the third conspiracy began in April 2013 and continued until July 2015 in Sacramento. It is alleged that Peter Singh paid money to Kimura to access the DMV’s computer database and alter individuals’ electronic DMV records to fraudulently and incorrectly indicate that applicants had passed examinations for Class C licenses, had passed the written examination for Class A CDLs, or had fulfilled the requirements for a Class A or Class B CDL renewal. These incorrect and fraudulent entries in the DMV database caused the DMV to issue licenses to unqualified individuals.
As part of the guilty pleas entered Tuesday, Sodhi Singh admitted accepting money to bribe DMV employees to obtain CDLs for individuals, and DMV employee Emma Klem admitting changing DMV data to indicate that those individuals had passed behind-the-wheel tests, when in fact they had never appeared to take the test.
Court documents indicate that the number of CDLs issued as a result of the scheme could number over 100. The investigation is continuing. DMV has already cancelled or revoked a number of licenses that appear to have been fraudulently procured, and will be reviewing the evidence to determine what additional actions may be appropriate.
Klem and Sodhi Singh are scheduled to be sentenced on November 17. They face a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.
Peter Singh and Andrew Kimura were arraigned on August 7, and entered pleas of not guilty. Turchin and Gill are scheduled to be arraigned on Friday, August 14. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.