The Turlock owner of a local trucking school has admitted to taking part in a scheme to obtain Class A commercial driver’s licenses by bribing Department of Motor Vehicle employees to fraudulently enter false test results.
Kulwinder Dosanjh Singh, 58, of Turlock, also known as Sodhi Singh, and DMV employee Emma Klem, 45, of Salinas both entered guilty pleas Tuesday in federal court to conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit identity fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The two were arrested as part of an ongoing fraud investigation by federal authorities that also resulted in the arrest of two other trucking school owners and two more DMV employees.
“Public corruption undermines the integrity of government, compromises safety, and damages our trust in public officials and employees,” said Special Agent in Charge Monica M. Miller of the FBI Sacramento field office. “The FBI is grateful for the collaboration of the California DMV and HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) during this complex, multi-year investigation. We are committed to working with our federal and state partners to identify and investigate public corruption at any level and urge the public to contact us with any information regarding corruption in government.”
According to the court records, Singh and the other trucking school owners, bribed DMV employees to access the department’s database and enter in false information that certain individuals had taken and passed both the written and behind the wheel tests needed to obtain Class A driver’s licenses. A Class A driver’s license is needed to operate a commercial truck, like an 18-wheeler.
As part of the guilty pleas entered Tuesday, Sodhi Singh admitted accepting money to bribe DMV employees to obtain licenses for individuals, and DMV employee Klem admitting changing DMV data to indicate that those individuals had passed behind-the-wheel tests, when in fact they had never appeared to take the test, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“This scheme enabled unqualified drivers to obtain licenses to operate all types of commercial vehicles,” said Tatum King, acting special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. “The implications of putting untrained drivers behind the wheel in such cases is frankly chilling. HSI will continue to work closely with its federal and state law enforcement partners to target schemes like this that serve to enrich the perpetrators at the expense of the public’s safety.”
Investigators suspect more than 100 Class A licenses could have been issued erroneously and as many as 23 collisions could be linked to scheme.
In an indictment returned Thursday and unsealed Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office accused trucking school owners Pavitar Dosangh Singh, aka Peter Singh, 55, of Sacramento; and Mangal Gill, 55, of San Ramon; and DMV examiners Andrew Kimura, 30, of Sacramento; and Robert Turchin, 65, of Salinas, with conspiracy, bribery, and fraud in connection with identification documents. The indictment specifically references the involvement of Klem and Sodhi Singh.
The indictment charges three conspiracies. The first began in approximately June 2011 and involved Kimura, Peter Singh, and Gill, who conspired with Klem and Sodhi Singh to obtain Class A CDLs for individuals who had not taken or passed the necessary DMV examinations in return for the payment of money to employees of the DMV and to produce identification documents without lawful authority. Authorities said the bribes for the Class A licenses were as much as $5,000 each.
Kimura was a Licensing Registration Examiner who worked in the DMV’s office in Sacramento and Klem was a Motor Vehicle Representative who worked in the DMV’s office in Salinas. As part of their jobs they were tasked with processing applications for Class A and Class B commercial and Class C noncommercial driver’s licenses.
The indictment accuses the trucking school owners, including Turlock’s Sodhi Singh, as acting like brokers to assist individuals in obtaining Class A, Class B, and Class C driver’s licenses by bribing Kimura and Klem to enter false information.
The second alleged conspiracy to commit bribery and ID fraud involved Gill, Klem, and DMV employee Robert Turchin, who was a Licensing-Registration Examiner working at the DMV facility in Salinas. According to the indictment, from July 2012 until April 2015, Gill acted as a broker for individuals who desired to obtain Class A or Class B CDLs without taking the requisite DMV examinations. He paid Turchin and Klem and other DMV employees to alter DMV records so that Class A and Class B licenses would be issued to individuals who were not qualified to receive such licenses.
According to the indictment, the third conspiracy began in April 2013 and continued until July 2015 in Sacramento. It is alleged that Peter Singh paid money to Kimura to access the DMV’s computer database and alter individuals’ electronic DMV records to fraudulently and incorrectly indicate that applicants had passed examinations for Class C licenses, had passed the written examination for Class A licenses, or had fulfilled the requirements for a Class A or Class B CDL renewal. These incorrect and fraudulent entries in the DMV database caused the DMV to issue licenses to unqualified individuals.
“Public corruption is always a high priority for the U.S. Department of Justice, but our mission is particularly crucial when the conduct not only violates the public trust, but endangers public safety,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner. “We depend on the Department of Motor Vehicles to keep the roads of this state safe, and individuals who undermine that function for personal gain must not expect leniency from the justice system. I am pleased that DMV Investigations worked so closely with FBI, HSI, and my office to expose and prosecute this conduct.”
The DMV offers the written test for Class A licenses at several locations, but only a few offer the behind the wheel test, one of which is the Salinas office.
The charges announced are the result of investigations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and DMV Investigations which originated separately, but which combined in the course of the investigation.
DMV has already cancelled or revoked a number of licenses that appear to have been fraudulently procured, and will be reviewing the evidence to determine what additional actions may be appropriate.
“These investigations and the criminal charges they produced send a very clear and loud message that the Department of Motor Vehicles takes fraud and illegal activity very seriously, and it is absolutely not tolerated,” stated Frank Alvarez, Chief Investigator, California Department of Motor Vehicles. “DMV has already taken action and cancelled or revoked a number of licenses that appear to have been obtained through fraudulent means. The department will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure that justice is served.”
Christopher Morales of San Francisco, attorney for Sodhi Singh, said his client is a good family man who recognizes that he erred when he "took shortcuts" to help members of the Indian community who had trouble passing the tests.
Records indicate Sodhi Singh is the owner of Mid-California Truck School, based in Modesto.
Klem and Sodhi Singh are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17. They face a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. The actual sentences, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
Peter Singh and Andrew Kimura were arraigned on Aug. 7, and entered pleas of not guilty. Turchin and Gill are scheduled to be arraigned on Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.