24,000 Minnesota drivers licenses: Possible fraud, half canceled - KMSP-TV

Investigators: 10,000 Minn. drivers licenses canceled in possible fraud

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

For an identity thief, a legitimate, valid Minnesota driver's license under an assumed name is the Holy Grail.

Get one of these you have it made: credit card and mortgage fraud. Get stopped by a cop, hop on an airplane, no problem.

And while we may think a driver's license is the gold standard for identity, come to find out there are tens of thousands of very real DLs for very fake people.

Every four years in Minnesota, we get our driver's license renewed. For most of us, our only concern is getting through the long line, and taking a halfway decent picture. But there are those who push the limits for fun or fraud.

For Sam Rivard, it was all for laughs. He got one driver's license photo taken with a crazy wig. For his renewal, he added a glued-on beard.

"I don't know I just thought it was kind of funny," Rivard said. "I thought they'd say go home and come back normal, but they didn't."

And no one told Veronica Hernandez to take off her Lakers helmet either.

But the Minnesota Department of Vehicle Services is seriously concerned about people trying to game the system. So four years ago DVS got a federal grant to use facial recognition software, electronically comparing the facial features in photos from driver's licenses and state IDs.

"That's why we need this program to scrub these faces," said Doug Neville, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. "Because they're comparing points on a face, so whether you put on a beard or wear a hat, through the facial recognition program we're able to find those items."

Out of 11 million photos in the vehicle services database, facial recognition found nearly 1.3 million matches. Vehicle services then began going through those records by hand, looking at the pictures side by side.

"We have to take those records and put eyes on them," Neville said. "A lot of times twins, or someone got married, a lot of times there's a reasonable explanation."

They also eliminated people like Sam Rivard, and Veronica Hernandez, as harmless pranks. What they were after is fraud.

"There was about 23,000 records that we think are a good chance of being fraud," Neville said.

23,705 cases of possible fraud to be exact.

People like Pedro Chavez, aka Jose Cisneros, or Carlos Santiago, or Antonia Ledesma -- four separate Minnesota driver's licenses.

Detectives say the Albert Lea man was illegally collecting welfare for a decade, using real Minnesota driver's licenses obtained with phony documents. He was convicted of forgery, and deported.

"Is it a fraudulent birth certificate, is it a fake DL from another state?" Neville said. "Yes in all those cases as well as taking someone else's documentation and presenting it as their own."

Of these 24,000 driver's licenses, about 10,000 have been canceled. Beyond that, not much else has been done. Not a single name has been given yet to the Department of Human Services to check for welfare or food stamp fraud, and no names have been given or the Secretary of State to check against the voter rolls.

And what about criminal prosecution? Well, that is a very good question.

"All I can say we've referred 5,500 cases to an agency who can take any action necessary," Neville said.

But the state won't say which law enforcement agency, and the FOX 9 Investigators could only find a handful of prosecutions.

Those include people like Edward Sistrunk, aka Antonio Andolini, convicted last month for mail fraud and identity theft. He had state ID cards and Minnesota driver's licenses under at least nine different names.

Under one identity alone he got 10,381 in benefits from Hennepin County Human Services and another $1,190 in housing assistance from Anoka County. He used those real IDs to get credit cards, counterfeit checks, and even other IDs in South Dakota.

So with 23,000 potential fraudulent IDs, shouldn't we know who's job it is to hold accountable? Neville said that's law enforcement's job, but law enforcement doesn't give anyone to call up.

It's a frustration shared by state Rep. Steve Drazkowski, who last year passed a bill that required vehicle services to share those fraudulent names with human services. But it won't happen until July 2013 -- a year from now.

"This is only common sense," Rep. Steve Drazkowski said. "Our government should be doing this on our own, and probably a wide variety of other areas. Department X should be talking to department Y to make sure taxpayers aren't being abused."

Vehicle services, which doesn't have a fraud unit, is still waiting to cancel 13,000 more drivers licenses. But even if they're eventually prosecuted, the penalty for using a fake name to get a real drivers license is only a gross misdemeanor.

A gross misdemeanor, for a crime that even under the most conservative estimates, is costing the state millions.

Lucky for all of us, Sam Rivard just has an odd sense of humor.

"I wasn't trying to commit a crime or anything -- just a joke," he said. "They looked very closely at it. Three different ladies and still let it go through."

The Department of Vehicle Services says this is still very much a moving target. The state is working on acquiring this facial recognition software so they can continue to screen driver's licenses. More arrests are expected.

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