Ghost Drivers

Raul Patino was found to be using a Social Security number belonging to...
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Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

For years, Indiana's Bureau of Motor Vehicles was a quick stop to fast licenses and IDs for those with fake documents.
The governor vowed to clean it up.  New systems and more sophisticated licenses are now in place.  

But 13 Investigates has found one avenue with little or no enforcement and hundreds of suspected fraud cases are slipping by.

Hiding in plain sight are hundreds of "ghost drivers" behind the wheel. They're carrying state-issued licenses and IDs, but the names and Social Security numbers are not their own.   

"If there's a case where we think there's malicious intent, where someone was creating fraudulent ID's or something like that, obviously we'll hand that over to law enforcement," assured BMV Commissioner Ron Stiver.

"Since 2000 there's been somewhere around 900 names that have been provided to us," said Sgt. Dave Bursten, Indiana State Police.

There are ten suspected fraud cases a month on average.  Yet Indiana is among the last states - 48th in fact - to start verifying Social Security numbers directly with the government.

Prior to November of last year,  the BMV left it up to third party contractors to weed out the fakes. 

"I'm not going to ask my customer service reps to be law enforcement officers," said the commissioner when questioned about BMV processes  to detect fraudulent documents.

Months into cleaning up corrupt rolls, the BMV reports 50,000 people whose names and Social Security numbers don't match.

Raul Patino, 27, also known as Juan Martinez, is among them. Records reveal a troubling history: An arrest for a hit-and-run accident causing injury, repeat insurance violations, and driving while suspended.

But most disturbing, Raul Patino was found using the Social Security number of a driver who is dead.  

"This is the first time that I've seen this piece of information," Sgt. Bursten said after reviewing the court documents obtained by 13 Investigates.

Bursten didn't know, but State Police Investigators are well aware of Patino.  A 2006 BMV investigation shows he presented the Social Security number of a deceased driver, but he got a free pass despite his driving troubles.  He agreed to testify against the BMV clerk who processed digits from the dead and fraudulent numbers for seven others.

No charges were ever filed against Patino. The case against the BMV worker was tossed out. 
The fraudulent IDs and licenses weren't invalidated for eight months until we started asking questions.

13 Investigates questioned why there's been no enforcement even among individuals here in Indiana who admitted to using fraudulent and stolen information.

"It makes no sense," said Mike Cutler, a former New York immigration officer.  He spent 30 years tracking illegal immigrants involved in organized crime.  He is now a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies. 

"Once you get your hands on one of those key documents you can then parlay that one document into a whole new identity," Cutler told 13 Investigates.

13 Investigates wanted to trace the Social Security number back to its deceased owner.  That search led us to Austin, Texas.

We confirmed the number with family members of 81-year-old Phyllis Simpson. Mrs. Simpson died in February 2003. But her Social Security number is not at rest.  It was her number Indiana State Police found connected to Raul Patino.  

"I had no idea. I think what's concerning is that  they don't stop it," said Cherie Simpson.

Born in picturesque Brown County, Phyllis Simpson left the state in the 1950's.

Now her daughter's views of Indiana are less than pretty and her closure is violated.

"How does that get on the street?" Simpson's daughter questioned.  "It feels like a violation of your privacy. He should have been arrested,"  she said, referring to Patino.

The Simpsons aren't alone. 

Virgil Meadows, 73, died in Arizona in January 2000.  His Social Security number also turned up in the BMV investigation.  The State Police investigation at the BMV shows Edgar Contreras Pablo used it to get a license.

At last count, the BMV had over 100 active licenses registered to deceased drivers whose names, dates of birth or Social Security numbers did not match.

"There's not enough people, there's not enough time, there's not enough money," Sgt. Bursten insisted.  

And, it appears, not enough collaboration.  

In the case of suspected illegal immigrants, including those involved in the BMV investigation, Bursten says his agency doesn't make it a habit to  notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The BMV doesn't contact ICE either.

"ICE is absolutely interested.  Identity theft is a pretty big focus," said spokesperson, Gail Montenegro.  ICE is part of a Document Fraud & Benefit Fraud Task Force that includes the Social Security Administration.

"If you don't have the information going to the agency that needs to do the job, and if ultimately the agency that's supposed to do the job lacks the manpower what are you going to accomplish?" questioned Cutler.

BMV Commissioner Ron Stiver is focusing on the new system.  

"If there's not a valid Social Security number entered as part of that process, there won't be a license issued," Stiver told 13 Investigates. So far 3,100 people have been denied a driver's license.

But there are no guarantees of enforcement for "ghost drivers" already on the road with Social Security numbers resurrected from the grave.

Neither the BMV nor the State Police could provide one fraud case with an arrest or prosecution from the hundreds of names turned over.   
Patino and the seven other known violators were not charged by the prosecutor.  A spokesman from the Marion County Prosecutor says they're appealing the case against the BMV worker, and that no formal plea deals were made with those who presented the fraudulent documents.
Letters are going out this week warning ghost drivers their licenses will be invalidated. 

But those who got IDs before July of last year can continue using the ID until it expires. They won't be allowed to renew them without valid Social Security numbers. Still, there will be no legal consequences. State Police say they simply don't have the manpower to track these people down.

Individuals who got IDs after July 1, 2007 were required to provide a valid Social Security number under a new state law. The BMV has immediately invalidated those 805 identification cards.