Suspect pleads guilty in driver’s license fraud
One of the three people accused of charging hefty fees to help Latinos illegally obtain Colorado driver’s licenses entered a plea of guilty May 2 in Ninth District Court.
Virginia J. Escalante agreed to plead guilty to the Class III felony count of bribery, in return for the district attorney dropping all other charges.
The plea could net Escalante four to 12 years in state prison. But as part of the agreement, prosecutors said they would recommend a sentence of no more than six years. Escalante is set to be sentenced on June 20.
Escalante, 44, and her husband Fernando C. Escalante, 32, both of Rifle, along with Patricia Jane Kay, 50, of Silt, were arrested on Oct. 31, 2001, and charged with bribery, forgery, issuing a false certificate and first-degree official misconduct, and conspiracy to commit each of these.
Glenwood Springs police first discovered the license scam in September 2001, then set up an undercover sting operation to gather evidence against the suspects.
Kay was a full-time employee of the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles outlet at the Glenwood Springs Mall. Virginia and Fernando Escalante, while not employees of the DMV, worked as “third-party testers.”
The uncovering of the scam put new emphasis on the need for a statewide overhaul on how licenses are issued, as well as validity reviews for all licenses issued from the Glenwood Springs DMV.
According to court documents, a woman who owns a local business discovered that one of her employees, a Mexican woman, paid $1,400 to obtain a license at the local DMV facility. The business owner told her husband about the activity. He went to police.
“The female employee paid the $1,400 because she was not a resident and did not have the proper identification to get a driver’s license,” the arrest affidavit said.
Driving test results were allegedly falsified by the Escalantes. Then, when the aliens went into the driver’s license office to finish up their paperwork, get their picture taken and physically receive the license, it is alleged that Kay falsified the paperwork to make it state that the aliens were legally entitled to get a license in Colorado.
The licenses, which normally cost $25, were allegedly sold to the recipients for $400 to $1,500. DMV sources said if the recipient of one of these bogus licenses was pulled over by police and checked out, the license would come up as valid on the state’s computer.
As part of a policy that has already been in the planning stages for more than a year and will begin in July, the DMV will review the background of any first-time applicant for a Colorado driver’s license before the license is handed over. After the review is completed, the license will be sent to the applicant through the mail.
The arraignments for Fernando Escalante and Patricia Jane Kay are set for May 16.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.