DETROIT (AP) — Thousands of people may have exploited a recently closed loophole in Michigan regulations to fraudulently obtain state driver’s licenses, a federal investigator says.
Federal agents are investigating what they say are criminal rings that helped people get licenses without proof of residency in Michigan.
Last month, secretary of state offices began requiring adults applying for their first driver’s license or personal identification card to provide documentation showing they live in the state.
Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land said the change offered a new defense against identity fraud.
State and federal authorities requested the change to help prevent people from falsely obtaining state licenses and ID cards.
“We saw an alarming amount of … cases where groups were bringing criminals or illegal aliens to Michigan for the sole purpose of obtaining a Michigan driver’s license,” Brian Moskowitz, head of the Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told The Detroit News for a story yesterday.
In July, the Portuguese language Brazilian Voice newspaper in Newark, N.J., ran an ad offering Michigan driver’s licenses for $1,000, and similar ads appeared in other foreign-language publications.
Land spokeswoman Kelly Chesney said her office had no idea of the seriousness of the problem until a meeting with Justice Department officials in October.
She said the state continues to work with the federal government to further reduce fraud.
Michigan law had long required that applicants for driver’s licenses and ID cards be state residents.
Before last month’s change, the law required that applicants provide at least three documents to help prove identity.
Now applicants have to provide at least one document that shows the applicant’s name with a Michigan address.
That would include items such as utility bills, bank statements, insurance policies, government documents, valid student IDs or paycheck stubs.
The requirement applies to all first-time Michigan applicants who are 18 or older.
The new policy does not apply to renewals or to residents under 18.
“Michigan is well known among the illegal immigrant population and among other groups,” Moskowitz said. “It was one of the easiest places to get one.”