Married couple scheme issues phony driver's licenses in Virginia

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

A husband and wife team from Stafford County, Virginia were arrested Wednesday on charges they sold authentic driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and others for between $2,000 and $3,500.

Francisco J. Martinez, 57, a manager of a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) service center in Springfield, and his wife Miriam Martinez, 56, a former DMV employee, allegedly sold 50 fraudulent licenses, ID’s, since January 2004. They face federal charges of conspiring to commit identification fraud, a possible 15 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.

The break in the case was made when police arrested Daniel Jose Guardia Lopez, 25, on June 13. Lopez, an Alexandria resident, is an illegal immigrant from Bolivia. He pleaded guilty Monday for his involvement in the fraud, and turned informer after confessing to acting as a gatekeeper that arranged for other illegals to obtain phony ID’s through the Martinez couple.

This is the second incident in as many years where the selling of phony ID’s was uncovered in Virginia. The need for awareness was raised when it was learned that seven of the nineteen hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks had Virginia ID’s. U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, speaking on the federal crackdown that has ensued, said “A few years ago, one could fraudulently obtain a driver’s license for about $100.” Obtained legally, they cost $20. He called “reprehensible” the alleged actions of the Martinez couple.

Court documents for the case record that Lopez, who worked as a construction worker, would collect the ID fee from other illegal Bolivians, and keep $500 for himself. He would then steer the person to the service center where Mr. Martinez worked. Martinez, a longtime employee and 4-year supervisor, would often fill out the immigrant’s application, and falsely certify that an ID from another state was surrendered.

Lopez became involved with the Martinez’s when his own driving privileges had been suspended. He met Miriam, who arranged to have a new ID issued to him, through her husband. A working relationship developed between the two, and Miriam would call Lopez and tell him when to appear at the DMV service center with clients who followed behind him in the scheme. The arrest of Lopez was unknown to Miriam when he made a monitored call to her and said he had 2 cousins from Bolivia. This ultimately led to undercover agents, who posed as the cousins, being issued ID’s by Francisco, her husband. During this sting operation, the 2 agents paid $6,000 and presented no identification.

Virginia DMV spokeswoman, Pam Goheen, said one of the steps taken to beef up enforcement and auditing efforts at service centers is to have all applications double checked by "document verifiers". Goheen said, "There is a heightened awareness of the importance of a driver's license," and called the arrests "unfortunate and disappointing".

Miriam Martinez was a clerk at a Tysons Corner DMV service center for 2 years ending in 1998, and then again briefly in 2003. The earlier incident of ID fraud stemmed out of that location. Both cities, Tysons Corner and Alexandria, are within commuting distance to Washington, D.C.