ID Theft Ring Allegedly Bribed DMV Employees

Counter-terrorism investigators busted an alleged identity theft ring whose members are suspected of bribing Department of Motor Vehicles employees in Inglewood and several states to provide fake documents.

Los Angeles police, the FBI, DMV and District Attorney's Office teamed up to track a Pakistani woman and 13 alleged accomplices, the Los Angeles Times reported on its Web site.

Shamsha Laiwalla, 44, who recently pleaded guilty to federal charges of identity theft stemming from the investigation, paid DMV workers to provide driver's licenses and other documents, Los Angeles police and federal officials told The Times.

For $3,500, she offered to provide a driver's license, birth certificate and Social Security card to an undercover agent pretending to be a Pakistani who sneaked into the United States, The Times reported.

The names of least some of her alleged clients have turned up in ongoing federal investigations into national security issues, LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing told the newspaper.

Last week, Los Angeles County prosecutors filed 11 state charges against her and also charged 13 of her alleged accomplices, the newspaper reported.

She pleaded not guilty to the new charges Wednesday.

LAPD counter-terrorism officers told The Times she has not been directly connected to any known terrorist groups, but that in 2007, one of her contacts changed DMV records for members of a criminal organization that dealt drugs and sold counterfeit goods in Los Angeles' garment district.

Authorities suspect that money from the group went to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant Shiite Muslim group in Lebanon.

According to federal court papers, she told an undercover officer that "she has helped numerous individuals from her native Pakistan."

"We have no idea how many thousands of people might be out there with these documents," LAPD Detective Mark Severino told the newspaper. "If we're talking about counter-terrorism issues, that's a scary thought."

Two other women, one of whom was found guilty of identity theft in federal court along with Laiwalla, are accused of getting forged birth certificates and Social Security cards for about $1,500, and three of her contacts at the DMV's Inglewood office have been fired, according to the newspaper.

One of the former employees is charged with taking $800 to illegally process a driver's license for an undercover agent by forging the results on the written exam and driving test, according to court records.

Another employee is charged with helping to illegally register a car and the third is accused of accessing DMV databases to help protect members of the crime ring associated with Hezbollah.

Police believe that employee erased electronic notifications the DMV uses to alert law enforcement during traffic stops that an arrest warrant has been issued against the person being detained, The Times reported.

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