Indictment alleges that RMV officials sold motor vehicle inspection licenses and equipment for profit
Two Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicle officials and the owner of two motor vehicle service stations were charged this past week with scheming to extort service station owners looking to obtain motor vehicle safety inspection licenses. The three individuals, Mark C. LaFrance, 51, of Braintree, David P. Gaw, 70, of Wakefield and Simon Abu Raad, 50, of Tyngsboro were charged in the U.S. District Court with conspiring to extort money under color of official right in exchange for an official license to conduct Massachusetts motor vehicle safety inspections as well as with participating in a scheme to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Until his arrest, La France had been the RMV’s project manager for vehicle safety and compliance services with oversight responsibilities for the Commonwealth’s entire motor vehicle inspection program while Gaw was a Senior RMV inspector from Lawrence in charge of inspecting service stations and applying for licenses. The third member of the ring, Abou Raad, owned service stations in both Tewksbury and Tyngsboro. A federal grand jury indicted Gaw while both Abou Raad and LaFrance were charged by Information, having been in custody since their arrest in March of this year.
In Massachusetts, motor vehicle inspection licenses are awarded via a waiting list, with preference given to the geographic location of the service station. In reality, however, it is nearly impossible for new motor vehicle safety inspection licenses to be granted because with the system running at its capacity, the RMV has ceased granting new licenses off the waiting list. According to the indictment, the trio are alleged to have operated what essentially was a “black market” for the buying and selling of auto inspection licenses via LaFrance and Gaw’s official positions with the RMV.
According to an investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI, LaFrance is purported to have given Abou Raad a list of vehicle inspection stations with either a low performance level of inspections or who were planning to surrender their licenses and sell their inspection equipment. Abou Raad then proceeded to contact the owners of these service stations with offers to purchase their inspection license and equipment for sums ranging between $5,000 to $6,000 dollars. Upon illegally purchasing these licenses, About Raad then turned around and sold them to interested sellers which had been identified and groomed by RMV inspector Gaw. These illicit licenses were sold to the service station owners for prices between $50,000 to $75,000 dollars.
These transactions were then obfuscated by Abou Raad altering the purchase of the licenses to make it appear as if the new license was a result of the service station owners merging into a new business entity or through a change in ownership of the existing licensed station. Abou Raad then submitted the false paperwork to the RMV which LaFrance either approved or permitted others in the RMV to approve resulting in the issuance of a new safety inspection license. After a successful deal, Abou Raad, would then split the proceeds with LaFrance and would also pay Gaw a “finder’s fee” or kickback if Gaw had been involved with the identification of a buyer or had conducted a site inspection for the newly licensed service station owner.
For example, in evidence gathered during the investigation both Abou Raad and Gaw discussed the amount of money Gaw would receive from identifying a potential buyer: “Gaw was intercepted asking Abou Raad, “how much you got for me?” and Abou Raad responded, “two grand.”
It is thought that the individuals were involved in at least 10 inspection license transactions which defrauded unwitting service station owners of approximately $657,000 dollars. If the defendants are found guilty, the maximum sentence they could receive under the extortion and mail fraud statutes is 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or twice the gain or loss, whichever is greater with three years supervised release, restitution and forfeiture.