Complaints pour in against driving school owner
An Indiana driving school owner has done it again. He has shut down his drivers education program and walked away with students money.
13 Investigates first uncovered troubling practices in Indianapolis. Now, our investigation takes us to another community as complaints to the Indiana Attorney General pouring in.
Gary Baxter owns commercial driving schools across Indiana. There's just one problem - his commercial license from the BMV is no longer valid.
13 Investigates found that didn't stop him from taking students out to drive.
"Just answer one question. Are you certified today to take this young man out and drive in a car?" 13 Investigates asked Baxter.
"Call the state. I don't know," Baxter responded.
13 Investigates first met Baxter last September. He was in Indianapolis, operating the A Auto Driving School and the BMV was refusing to accept waivers to allow his students to skip driving tests.
An investigation found he was cutting corners; collecting cash from immigrants and giving them waivers for permits on the spot in a BMV parking lot without having taken classes.
"Class time, putting an artificial date, start date on a class, I mean those kinds of errors or fraudulent statements of activity just can't be tolerated," said BMV spokesman Dennis Rosebrough.
Then in February, parents who paid A Auto $400 for their student to take drivers ed found themselves locked out of class for good.
Baxter shut down his driving school and left town. No refunds for parents and no promised licenses for students.
"It's very upsetting," parent Mary Ann Bromer-Kelly said back in February.
The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles revoked A Auto's license on a technicality and Baxter seemed to vanish.
13 Investigates got a tip that Baxter was still operating another driving school, one with a very similar name, in the southern Indiana town of Aurora.
Tipsters said three instructors and even the secretary at the A+ Auto Driving School in Aurora all quit June 30, after learning the program failed to meet state standards. Days later, 13 Investigates made the drive and found A+ Auto still open for business.
(Note: A+ Auto Driving School is not associated in any way with A+ Driving Academy in Fishers, Zionsville and Lebanon.)
"We have people calling us saying you're not doing things by the book and that you're not paying employees and you're not certified to operate and you've got young teenagers out on the road," explained 13 Investigates.
"You need to talk to my lawyer," said Baxter.
13 Investigates spoke with Baxter's attorney, Charles White of Indianapolis.
"We are in litigation and we are not in any position to give a statement at this time," White said.
According to the BMV, Baxter has owned A+ Auto since 2004. Insiders say someone else managed A+ Auto until Baxter abandoned A-Auto in Indianapolis back in the spring.
The BMV is in charge of overseeing commercial driving schools in Indiana. The agency issues commercial licenses to programs that meet standards, including background checks and physicals for instructors.
Students who take classes at an approved commercial school get to drive sooner. For example, 15-year olds can get a permit instead of waiting until their 16th birthday and 16-year olds can skip the written driver's test and get a driver's license three months earlier than teens who don't take the class.
The bottom line is that spending time and money at an unlicensed driving school means throwing away $400 and still having to log 50 road hours, just like someone who hasn't taken drivers ed.
Still, Baxter walked past our camera, got into the car, and headed off with another student for a driving lesson.
"If I had a kid, there'd be no way I'd be sending them down here," said Paul Dicken, a school librarian who was a driving instructor for A+ Auto since the summer of 2004.
Dicken says without warning on July 2, he and the entire staff at A+ Auto got an email from the BMV, stating their commercial licenses to teach drivers ed had expired, right along with the commercial license to operate the entire A+ Auto driving school as a state-approved program.
"The proper papers from the A+ Driving School were not properly filed," Dicken explained. "I would be asking these parents who put any kind of money in, if they haven't finished their drives, come back and get your money."
The BMV says a drivers ed program that claims it's state approved, but isn't, should be turned over to the Attorney General for fraud.
The Attorney General confirms its consumer division is now reviewing 34 complaints against A+ Auto. Some of Baxter's former employees are also taking him to civil court for thousands of dollars in back pay, as they speak out against his alleged rule violations.
"I know ethically and morally it's wrong. I couldn't get in a car knowing I don't have a license to drive that student," said Dicken.
But for weeks, Baxter refused to put on the brakes. Working alone, he balked at the idea of getting his licenses in order, before taking students for a ride.
Inside, he posted a warning message for students:
"You must have your permit with you in order to drive," the message said.
Yet when it comes to following the rules himself, Baxter says, "They had too many glitches or too many problems."
"So why don't you shut down until you figure it all out?," 13 Investigates questioned.
"Why would I shut down business? I'm learning how to help people drive," Baxter replied.
"You're not certified," said 13 Investigates, referring to the expired business license as a commercial driving school.
"I am certified until I get a notification or something," Baxter shot back.
Dicken says the BMV phoned his former boss to alert him the company no longer had commercial driving school status. Baxter blamed his problems on the BMV's computer system.
"I don't know how to work the Internet system. I tried to work on that Internet system and I can't get it to work," exclaimed Baxter.
The BMV refused to speak with us on camera regarding A+ Auto and its operations. In a written statement, the agency says, "The BMV is not experiencing any (computer) problems and has renewed more than 200 commercial drive school licenses without incident."
We showed the state's email about A+ Auto's expiration as a commercial school to one father, just after his son climbed out of the car with Baxter.
"Oh great," he said sarcastically. "I don't think it's right at all."
But the BMV says it can't make A+ Auto stop. The agency has no enforcement power.
Baxter finally shut down operations weeks after his license expired, but with no warning to parents or students, leaving them once again locked out after wasting both time and money.
The BMV says parents looking for approved commercial driving schools should visit the BMV website first.