A scheme to get driver’s licenses and IDs for illegal immigrants, hatched in the Va. DMV

November 6, 2013

Jose Calderon lined up the customers, charging them a few thousand bucks for the promise of authentic state IDs despite their illegal residency in the United States. Maria Cavallaro gave them what they sought, using her position at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to procure driver’s licenses, learner’s permits and identification cards for those she knew were not eligible for them.

Together, court filings show, the pair helped obtain documents for as many as 300 people — most of them illegal immigrants — and netted tens of thousands of dollars for themselves. On Wednesday, Cavallaro, 45, of Springfield, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and Calderon, 42, of Sterling, pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy charge. Cavallaro’s attorney said afterward that his client felt sympathy for people unable to renew their driver’s licenses because of a law change in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“She felt sorry for people,” said Neal Olesker, her attorney.

The pleas in a near-empty federal district courtroom in Alexandria mark the first time someone has accepted responsibility in the far-reaching conspiracy, which ran from 2007 into 2011. But it does not mark the end of the case. Calderon’s wife, Noemi Barboza, is scheduled to appear at a plea hearing Thursday, and court documents list an unnamed person who seems to have participated in the scheme but has not yet been charged.

The issue of whether to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants is increasingly being debated in state legislatures.

This year, Maryland passed a measure to create a sort of second-class driver’s license, which applicants could obtain without proof of lawful status, and the D.C. Council passed similar legislation Tuesday. Virginia, though, requires that one prove legal presence in the United States.

Calderon told a federal judge Wednesday that the scheme was “my idea,” but that it ran through Cavallaro, a former customer service representative and senior generalist at DMV customer service centers in Chantilly, Alexandria and Fairfax’s Fair Oaks Mall. According to court filings, Cavallaro would process and approve applications of those wanting driver’s licenses, learner’s permits or identification cards even though she knew the applicants could not prove legal presence in the United States.

Calderon, according to the filings, found the applicants and sometimes filled out the applications for them. Charging $2,000, $2,500 or $3,000 per person, he and Cavallaro netted at least $120,000 to split between them, court filings show. Calderon admitted that he brokered transactions for about 100 ineligible applicants, and Cavallaro admitted that another person sent her more than 200 ineligible applicants for illegal processing, court filings show.

A DMV spokeswoman said Cavallaro worked for the agency from 2005 to 2011 and referred other questions to the FBI. According to court records, Cavallaro was fired from the DMV in May 2011.

The DMV has had intermittent problems with employees selling driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants throughout the years.

The manager at a DMV office at Springfield Mall pleaded guilty in one such case in 2005.

Cavallaro faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, and Calderon faces a maximum of five. Both are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 31.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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