Artist charged in forgery scheme

Sunday, May 28, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- A graphic artist and a repair shop operator have been indicted in a scheme to provide as many as 4,000 fake emission test certificates to motorists who needed them to register their vehicles.

Earnest E. Carter, 53, of Pasadena Hills, and Donald L. Allen Sr., 46, of St. Louis, were arrested Friday and released on their own recognizance after appearing before a federal magistrate judge.

They were expected to be arraigned Tuesday on conspiracy charges involving a federal program.

The air quality in the St. Louis region fails to meet federal standards for ground-level ozone. And the emissions test is required under the federal Clean Air Act.

Carter, a self-employed graphic artist, printed the certificates on his home computer, said Terry Ball, environmental investigation manager for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the emissions program.

He said the certificates were then distributed to several "patrons," including Allen, who runs a repair shop.

The fake certificates sold for $100 each -- a bargain considering the often far-greater expense of repairing the emissions systems of vehicles that fail to pass the tests.

Authorities said the case could widen to include other people who helped sell the bogus certificates. The Department of Revenue is trying to track down motorists who used the certificates.

Terri House, general manager of the Ferguson License Office, prompted the investigation when she reported concerns about forged documents to the Department of Natural Resources last year.

"She explained it to us, the severity of the problem and the volume of it she was seeing," Ball said. "It opened our eyes, I guess, as to how much of it was going on."

Ball said investigators decided to run a test. They looked at vehicles that had gone through St. Louis-area test centers and failed their first emission test without returning for a retest during the second half of 2005. Of the 3,300 vehicles matching those criteria, 800 had obtained vehicle registrations.

Law enforcement began interviewing people who showed up at the Ferguson License Office with the fake emissions certificates. Those interviews led authorities to Allen's shop and eventually to Carter.

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