Two sentenced in driver’s license scam
Virginia and Fernando Escalante both were sentenced in Ninth District Court Wednesday for the role each played in a scam in which legitimate Colorado driver’s licenses were improperly furnished to illegal aliens. Virginia Escalante, 44, was sentenced first by District Judge T. Peter Craven. She received four years in Colorado Department of Corrections state prison. Fernando Escalante, 32, was given two years in state prison. “It involved a very elaborate and thought-out scheme, including a password,” Craven said. “It resulted in 300 unlicensed drivers driving on the road.”In court Wednesday, the prosecution said in the three months the scam was running, approximately August through October 2001, the Escalantes and co-conspirator Patricia Jane Kay might have raked in as much as $400,000. Defense attorney James Conway, however, said those figures are exaggerated. Craven continued by saying the Escalantes’ actions “broke the trust in the system” and that the crimes are of “substantial gravity.” He also said it was disturbing that during previous interviews, Virginia Escalante said she thought she was helping illegal aliens by providing them with illicit driver’s licenses. She pleaded guilty May 2 to the class-three felony count of bribery in return for the district attorney dropping all other charges. On Wednesday, she spoke to the court on her own behalf, this time apologizing and taking responsibility for her actions and admitting it was wrong to have suggested the scam helped people. “I know I hurt the state of Colorado. I did a criminal thing that I should not have done. … I hurt the Hispanic community because they trusted me and I hurt my church,” she said. “I am guilty of what I did and I will take the punishment.”Virginia Escalante also publicly apologized to Patricia Kay, saying it was her idea and she recruited Kay into the scam.”I have to pay the price for what I did,” she said. Fernando Escalante had pleaded guilty to one count of criminal solicitation. Although Escalante was acknowledged by prosecutors to be far less involved in the scam than the others, Craven took into account his criminal history since 1997 during the sentencing. He was convicted of drunken driving in 1997 and 2002, fighting in public in 2000, and violation of probation in 1998. He spoke to the court through an interpreter. “Forgive me, I didn’t know it was such a mistake … I don’t want to go to jail,” he said. Craven said in order to reflect the seriousness of the crime, he had to send Escalante to prison. The last person involved in the scam, Kay, will be sentenced Friday. She pleaded guilty to bribery and computer crime – committing a theft of over $15,000. The computer crime count is described as “using a computer for devising a scheme to defraud.” The charge also takes into account the fact that Kay was a public servant when she committed the crime. She worked behind the desk distributing driver’s licenses for the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles outlet at the Glenwood Springs Mall. Kay, 50, of Silt, would normally be looking at four to 12 years for each of the two counts, but as part of the plea bargain, the DA’s office agreed to recommend that Kay receive no more than eight years in state prison. The three were arrested on Oct. 31, 2001, after Glenwood Springs police completed an undercover sting operation to gather evidence against the suspects. Kay was a full-time employee of the DMV office. The Escalantes, while not actual employees of the DMV, worked as “third-party testers.”In addition to their criminal charges, the Escalantes and Kay have been named in a district court civil lawsuit filed June 28. The suit is aimed at recovering $111,938.09 in cash that was netted in the scam, as well as a GMC Suburban and a white Lincoln. The suit was filed as part of a Colorado law created to “abate a public nuisance” and seize illegally obtained money and wares. The uncovering of the scam put new emphasis on the need for a statewide overhaul on how licenses are issued, as well as for validity reviews for all licenses issued from the Glenwood Springs DMV. The activity was discovered by police more than a month before the Oct. 31 arrests. 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 Department of Motor Vehicles driver’s license facility in the Glenwood Springs Mall. 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. The driving test results were 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, Kay falsified their paperwork to make it state that the aliens were legally entitled to get a license in Colorado. The licenses were sold to the recipients for between $400 and $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. The licenses have since been pulled. As part of a policy that had already been in the planning stages before the arrests and recently took effect, the DMV will now 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.
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