CBS 58 Investigates: Criminal ring inside DMV forging titles

CBS 58 Investigates: Criminal ring inside DMV forging titles

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A ring of employees inside a Milwaukee DMV are caught stealing customer information, forging documents and making money.

The scheme CBS 58 Investigates found through open records involves DMV employees using customer’s personal information to forge replacement title applications.

Jill Nunn traded in an old car in 2017 and didn’t give it another thought. Then months later she got a call from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

“They asked me if I had applied for a new title for the vehicle and I said not since I had traded it in,” Nunn said.

Investigators sent her a copy of the title application. It had her driver’s license number, address, and was signed at the bottom.

“Once I saw my name was someone else’s writing, that’s when I got mad,” Nunn said.

Through multiple open records requests, CBS 58 Investigates learned the problem is much bigger than just Nunn’s case. A ring of DMV employees, primarily at the Milwaukee-Northeast DMV, accessed customer records and used the information to get titles.  

The crimes dates back to at least 2014. The victims all traded their cars in to dealerships, which then sold them at auctions. Whoever bought the cars at auction is behind the scheme and used those insiders at the DMV.

“I asked [the investigator], well I don’t get it,” Nunn said. “What is the benefit to someone by breaking the law?”

The answer is money. In Wisconsin, most cars purchased at auction must then be sold to licensed dealers. However the forged titles made it look the cars were privately owned. According to the DOT investigation, that allowed the suspects to “sell directly to a customer instead of selling to a dealer at a lower price.”

Four DMV workers were fired and charged. Lisa Lorenzo and Pippa Benning pleaded guilty to several felonies. Two others, Isaac Awe and Clarisse Adams, are set for trial later this year.

Willie McNairy is set to testify at Adam’s trial. She says she got a call from investigators two and a half years after trading in her car and immediately worried that her personal information is now compromised.

“I suddenly got upset, I got scared and nervous and I was like OK so what’s happening?” McNairy told CBS 58 Investigates.

58 Investigates asked the DOT for comment. They declined to go on camera so we emailed questions.

A spokesperson said in a statement:

“All the customers affected by the misconduct of these employees were notified. Customers were not at risk of identity theft related to these incidents because their information was used internally to facilitate a specific transaction; the information was not shared outside the division or to the public.”

But the DOT did not answer several of our questions. One of the biggest unanswered questions: Is the DOT certain all those involved have been caught? Records 58 Investigates got show investigators still don’t know who is behind the scheme.

The DMV employees told investigators they didn’t know the names of the people they were working for, only nicknames. According to documents obtained by CBS 58, investigators believe the DMV workers did all this for bribes, but all four suspects denied that and just said they did it as favors.

“I was completely shocked,” said Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee). “I had no information about this.”

Sen. Taylor represents the area where this happened and says its concerning not only because personal data was compromised but because if a car is involved in a crime it’s important to know who actually owns it.

“This is very much a public safety issue,” Sen. Taylor said.

After talking to 58 investigates, Sen. Taylor says she reached out to the DOT secretary for information and to see if there is new legislation that can prevent this in the future.

“Looking at the licensing process for individuals who are able to go to auctions,” Sen. Taylor said.

She also says she doesn’t think the investigation into what happened and who is involved is over. 

The two suspects who did not take plea deals are headed for trial -- Isaac Awe in March, Clarise Adams in April.

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