15 indicted in alleged commercial driver's license conspiracy

Friday, September 22, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The operators of two trucking schools conspired to put unqualified Somalian and Bosnian immigrants on the nation's highways by helping them fraudulently obtain commercial driver's licenses, federal prosecutors said in an indictment unsealed Thursday.

The indictment, returned Wednesday by a grand jury in Springfield, names 15 defendants who face charges including conspiracy and mail fraud, making a false writing and causing a false identification document to be produced.

It stems from an investigation dating to fall 2004 of testing practices at the South Central Career Center Truck Driving School in the southern Missouri town of West Plains. The school's superintendent, Dean P. Proffitt, 71, was among those indicted, as was Ernest Arnel White, who ran a Kansas City-area school and would send students to Proffitt's school to take the driving exam.

Proffitt was placed on a leave of absence in February, and the school can no longer test for CDLs.

During the investigation, the superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said, authorities found a suspiciously high percentage of students passing the driving tests.

"The pass rate for the school was found to be 99 percent," Col. Jim Keathley said. "The average pass rate statewide is 83 percent."

Authorities do not believe terrorism was involved, federal prosecutor Bradley J. Schlozman said.

, but public safety was at risk because some of the immigrants -- more than 100 of whom also earned endorsements to transport hazardous material -- never proved even rudimentary big rig driving skills.

And had terrorism been the intent, he said, those running the alleged conspiracy would have been to blame.

"I would think it obvious that commercial driver's licenses are a very powerful tool, a weapon in the hands of someone seeking to do large-scale harm," Schlozman said. "The flagrant, reckless disregard for national security by the key defendants in this case underscores the fact that protecting our homeland is a responsibility we all bear."

The South Central Career Center is a division of the West Plains R-7 School District, although no district officials are named in the indictment. The district had a contract with the state to perform third-party CDL testing. State law was changed earlier this year to eliminate third-party testing.

District superintendent Karla Eslinger said Thursday that she had not seen the indictment and could not comment on specifics.

"We hope it's a sign that we're edging toward the end of a long and pretty difficult time for the district," she said.

White, who allegedly provided test answers to students at his driving school in Kansas City, also is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The indictment alleges that White, 49, who converted to Islam while in prison for a 1993 robbery conviction, used his connections in the Muslim community to recruit students to his Muslim Brothers and Sisters driving school.

"Many of the individuals to whom he gave the answers spoke little or no English," Schlozman said.

The FBI's Mark Wagoner said White, who operated his school in Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., at various times, did have an old semitrailer that could have been used for instruction.

However, prosecutors said, his students were rarely given the full two-hour proficiency tests required by state law. Instead, the indictment alleges South Central Career Center instructor Orbin May gave shortened examinations, drove trucks while White's students rode along or simply signed their examinations without their having even shown up in West Plains.

White, whose school is no longer operating, funneled between 200 and 300 students through his school, Schlozman said, and "developed a reputation in the Somali community for being able to obtain what he called 'invisible licenses."'

Prosecutors allege White and Proffitt both profited from the students' payments for the fraudulent licenses.

The indictment also names Howard E. Schneider, 39, of Overland Park, Kan.; Hiram Chebar Oliver, of Raytown; Osman Abdullahi, 30, of San Diego; Abdiwahab Mohabud Mohamed, 37, of Minneapolis; Samir Hasanovic, 22, of Arnold; and Kansas City residents Elias Mohamed, 25, Ahmed Muhidin Sharif, 27, Abdulfatah Osman Farah, 24, Yusuf Kalmole, 34, Adil Majlovic, 19, Mersud Kajtazovic, 31, and Abdirizak Abdi Mohamed, whose age was given as 25 or 32.

The other defendants assisted in the fraud by various means, Schlozman said, including providing translation or transportation services or by directing license applicants to White.

All of those who obtained licenses through White's school will have to pass another competency test or lose them, Schlozman said.

Twelve of the 15 defendants, including Proffitt, White and May, were in custody early Thursday afternoon.

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