License To Scam?

You cannot take a tougher driving test in the United States than the one for a commercial driver license--a CDL---designed to make sure truckers behind the wheels of tractor trailers know what they are doing.

It is tough, unless you were a part of the scam in Chicago reports CBS News Transportation Correspondent Bob Orr for Eye on America.

Terrence Brunner, head of a citizens watchdog group says all it took was money at any one of several licensing offices --under the Illinois secretary of state.

"They've been bribing individuals who give the tests and get them these licenses whether or not they know how to drive a truck," says Brunner.

And it was big money, say investigators. Trucking companies and driving schools were encouraged to purchase tickets to political fundraisers for the secretary of state. In return, it is alleged, truckers, some unqualified, were given CDLs.

"The inspectors...were in a position of saying you'll get favorable treatment if you'll simply buy these tickets," says Brunner. "They could guarantee to these people that they were going to get their driver's licenses and they did."

That is corroborated by the testimony of Tammy Raynor, who works at one of the license offices. In a sworn deposition, she called it a cash-and-carry scam. Raynor claims her boss at the office sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of fund raising tickets and then ordered Tammy to pass the unqualified drivers.

The scheme exploded this fall when federal investigators raided a secretary of state license office, hauling out boxes of records and arresting the manager, assistant manager and a former employee on charges of extortion in the license selling scheme.

This tale of corruption goes well beyond Chicago. Investigators say five thousand truckers, maybe more, no one really knows, are now driving the highways of America with licenses bought and sold --licenses those truckers couldn't get any other way.

It was a scam that reached around the world. Immigrant truckers heard if you couldn't speak English, a requirement for a CDL, or were otherwise unqualified, Chicago was the land of opportunity.

"This is the advertisement that they were running in New York magazines, in Polish, telling people that for $1,350 dollars that they would be guaranteed a commercial driver's license," says Brunner.

Drivers had to show to the Illinois office consisted of identification...and proof of Illinois residency. In more than 150 cases, that residency was this motel just around the corner from the license facility.

The potential consequences of unqualified truckers is enormous. While not proven, a couple now in court claims a crash they were involved in might have been avoided if the truck driver understood English...a driver who obtained his license from one of the Chicago offices under investigation.

"I must tell you that we hurt, in sorrow, as you parents would for your children" says Rev. Duane Willis.

Duane and Janet Willis lost 6 of their children in the fiery crash. They'd hit part of a truck that fell in their path.
Allegedly, the trucker was warned about the danger by other truckers over their CB radios before the accident but he didn't understand the warnings...they were in English.

CBS News Transportation Correspondent Bob Orr