State Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, R-Taunton, says the RMV should do more to stop ID impostors.
RMV overhauling licensing software; critics say it doesn't go far enough to stop ID fraud
5 Investigates Reporter
The Registry of Motor Vehicles' new $62 million contract to overhaul its outdated computer system will check applicants for driver's licenses against immigration, passport, Social Security and other databases, but critics say it lacks a key safeguard against the most widespread identity fraud: a check against a database of identities from Puerto Rico, which is ground zero for many of the stolen identities in play in Massachusetts.
"Having Puerto Rico as some part of some kind of system that we use is critical to the success of stopping these guys from doing this," said state Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, R-Taunton, who has spoken out about identity fraud and the RMV.
The IT overhaul will make licenses issued by Massachusetts compliant with stricter regulations called for under the federal REAL ID act, which aims to make it harder for people to obtain driver's licenses under identities that are not their own.
It's a problem that 5 Investigates' Kathy Curran has shown is widely known among law enforcement in Massachusetts who see how the so-called identity impostors use Massachusetts driver's licenses to use stolen identities, usually from Puerto Rico, to evade capture and prosecution and also sometimes to obtain public benefits.
The cases uncovered by 5 Investigates include Fernando Puente-Alvares, which Fall River police say is the true name of a man living in that city for decades. He used two other aliases, including Jorge Garay, the identity under which he received MassHealth benefits and a state tobacco license for his convenience store and even voted. Fall River city records show he last voted in the Nov. 6, 2012 election.
Court records show he was found guilty under various drug charges going back to 1989 under his other alias, Miguel Figueroa.
Now he's facing drug and identity charges in Fall River District Court. Police say he was selling drugs out of his convenience store.
"They're opening the door to all these taxpayer benefits, siphoning money out of the system for people that really are in need and they're posing dangers to our communities," O'Connell said.
Other cases uncovered recently by 5 Investigates include a man facing murder charges for a 2010 stabbing death in Lawrence. He's charged as Juan Peguero, the name his former girlfriend said he was given when he was born in the Dominican Republic, but he had a Massachusetts driver's license under another name, Obed Medi. He was working at a Methuen yogurt plant under a different identity, Miguel Cordero, and had still other aliases.
Last summer Massachusetts State Police put a convicted child molester who had failed to register as a sex offender on their list of top 10 most wanted sex offender fugitives. But officials now say that Caled Donatiu, the identity under which he had a driver's license, was convicted, served time and was charged with failing to register was an alias.
O'Connell said Massachusetts should look at how the New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicles cracked down on would-be impostors by training counter clerks to better spot identity fraud and then call police.
"We need to be very aggressive so we're catching these guys," O'Connell said.
"We have new technology that's going to provide better service to our customers, and we'll have additional fraud prevention measures," she said.
The new software to be implemented by Fast Enterprises will verify identities with passports, immigration and other databases. They are requirements to make the driver's license compliant with the REAL ID Act, a federal law that had its origins after the 9/11 terror attack, in which some of the terrorists obtained valid state identity cards in identities that were not their own.
The contract also calls for Massachusetts to begin working with a voluntary program called State to State that allows participating states to share licensing data. So far only 15 states have signed onto the program. The territory of Puerto Rico is not part of it.
"How key would you say it is to get Puerto Rico on board to prevent this fraud?" Curran asked Deveney.
"Massachusetts is focused on making sure we introduce 21st century technology system and we're very much heartened by the fact that other jurisdictions are joining on board." Deveney said.
"But is Puerto Rico key, yes or no?" Curran asked again.
"Every jurisdiction that participates is a benefit to the entire national system and the states that rely upon information," Deveney said.