By Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press
SPOKANE — A federal appeals court has reinstated charges against six men allegedly involved in a bribery-based scheme to illegally obtain commercial drivers’ licenses.
The federal charges were initially dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Edward F. Shea of Pasco, but the appeals court that reversed his decision was reversed on Tuesday.
Two of the defendants were charged with a conspiracy to defraud and deceive the Washington Department of Licensing by receiving bribes from four defendants to falsely obtain commercial drivers’ licenses. They did that by helping the applicants cheat on exams, and obtain false certifications showing skills tests were successfully completed.
The scheme also involved the use of addresses in Spokane for applicants who lived out-of-state, court documents said.
People who want to drive large commercial trucks in Washington are required to obtain a special license, and to do that must be residents of the state and pass a series of tests.
According to court documents, defendant Brano Milovanovic was a Bosnian translator who as an independent contractor provided translation services to various government agencies, including the Department of Licensing.
According to court documents, Milovanovic contacted Bosnian-speaking people who lived outside of Washington and offered to provide them a commercial drivers’ license in exchange for about $2,500. He allegedly helped applicants cheat on the written test, then paid Tony Gene Lamb about $200 to $500 to certify that an applicant had passed the driving portion of the test. Lamb was also an independent contractor.
Co-defendants Ismail Hot, Muhamed Kovacic, Elvedin Bilanovic and Aleksandar Djordjevic allegedly paid $2,500 each to receive fraudulent licenses, court documents said.
A federal grand jury in Spokane returned an indictment against the six defendants. The defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss the charges on grounds they did not work for the state and so the state was not economically harmed. Shea ruled in their favor.
But the appeals court overturned him and remanded the case back for trial.
“There is no question that were Milovanovic and Lamb employees of the State of Washington, they would be subject to prosecution for theft of honest services,” the appeals court said. There was no reason to treat them differently because they were independent contractors, the court said.