The Department of Motor Vehicles may have been lax in its enforcement of violations at one of the state’s largest driving schools, but despite claims of favoritism the attorney general’s office found that the agency enforced driving school laws evenly in a “minimal or non-existent” manner.
Those findings were outlined in this interim report released Tuesday by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s office. The investigation into driving schools began following the 2009 convictions of Joaquim “Jack” Sousa and Sharon Sousa on criminal impersonation and conspiracy to commit forgery charges which effectively ended the Academy of Driving’s more than 20 years of operation in the state.
The report found that during a 22-year period, the DMV would periodically find that the Academy of Driving had committed violations. But the DMV would either take informal action, take action in an untimely manner, or take minimal enforcement action.
“The totality of the evidence indicates DMV took enforcement action against Academy of Driving essentially to the same extent and in the same manner it enforced state law against other driving schools during the time the Sousas operated the Academy of Driving — minimally or not at all,” the report states.
There was insufficient evidence to substantiate that DMV supervisors continuously and illegally covered up violations by Academy of Driving for 22 years following the 1986 Carlton Csiki investigation, the report found.
“The evidence does reveal a lack of effective regulation of driving schools and lax enforcement efforts,” it states.
Csiki discovered that in multiple cases Academy of Driving improperly notarized parental permission forms, used unlicensed instructors, began on-the-road instruction for students before they reached legal age, and did not give sufficient hours of instruction to students, according to the report. While the evidence of that investigation almost 25 years ago was difficult to find the report stated that what it did fund supports Csiki’s allegations.
James Ricci, a former DMV licensing agent who attempted to expose the lack of enforcement, said the recent report demonstrates what he already knew: “it’s blatant corruption at its highest level.”
Ricci, who retired in 2008, blames DMV Commissioner Robert Ward for ignoring his warnings about the lax enforcement. He said he submitted numerous reports about the school to the commissioner.
But DMV spokesman William Seymour says the report shows that “beginning in 2008 DMV took aggressive action under Commissioner Ward’s direction to investigate, prosecute and put out of business Academy of Driving.”
“DMV’s internal review led to a reorganizing of the unit overseeing driver education, strengthening policies regarding the licensing and testing at driving schools and stepped-up monitoring of driving school compliance with laws and regulations pertaining to the training of license applicants and the issuing of licenses,“ Seymour said. “Commissioner Ward ordered the changes based on findings of some questionable practices that occurred in a previous DMV administration.”
“The evidence obtained during this investigation shows that Commissioner Ward initiated and oversaw an investigation of Academy of Driving shortly after meeting with the whistleblower in January 2008. That investigation resulted in Academy of Driving and the Sousas being put out of business permanently,” the report concluded.
Ricci said he hopes Gov.-elect Dan Malloy takes the report seriously and appoints someone who is “not a political hack,” to run the agency. It’s likely Ward will be the next Republican Auditor of Public Accounts, if his nomination is approved by the legislature.
The report, which Attorney General-elect George Jepsen could finalize, recommends several measures to make employees and supervisors more accountable.
The report recommends the following:
DMV supervisors and senior managers should be are aware of and accountable for the progress of such complaints through DMV’s investigation and disposition process.
DMV should allocate a sufficient amount of DMV resources and an adequate number of DMV employees to the investigation and disposition of such complaints on a full-time basis.
DMV should promptly investigate and resolve such complaints with dispositions that fall within DMV’s jurisdiction and discretion after considering the nature of the complaint.
DMV should implement a process to track and record work on complaints from the time DMV receives the complaint until the complaint reaches a final disposition. This process should clearly document all work performed in furtherance of the investigation and the final disposition of the complaint. This process should also identify all DMV employees who worked on the complaint or who exercised decisional authority over the complaint.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this article.