Arrest Made in Texas Driver’s License Scheme Involving NY-Based Chinese Crime Ring

Jana J. Pruet
By Jana J. Pruet
April 27, 2023US News
Arrest Made in Texas Driver’s License Scheme Involving NY-Based Chinese Crime Ring
File photo of Texas Department of Public Safety patrol vehicles. (Sam Craft/AFP via Getty Images)

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has made an arrest in connection with a driver’s license scheme linked to a Chinese organized crime ring.

Late last year, DPS discovered it had sent thousands of fraudulently obtained duplicate driver’s licenses to addresses in New York, Oklahoma, and Georgia. The breach was made public during a budget hearing at the Capitol in Austin, Texas.

The licenses have been used nationwide to withdraw money from victims’ bank accounts, open credit card accounts, and purchase expensive vehicles.

Tony Cao Li, 35, was arrested in Flushing, New York, earlier this month. He is accused of organized criminal activity, fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, and breach of computer security, according to the arrest warrant obtained by The Epoch Times.

Li is accused of using a fraudulently obtained license as identification to purchase expensive vehicles, including a 2023 Porsche Cayenne and a Mercedes-Benz valued at more than $123,000, the document said.

On April 21, Li was extradited from New York to Austin, Texas.

Initially, DPS reported at least 3,000 Texans were affected by the security lapse on the state’s website, but the number of victims has since grown to more than 5,100.

“[T]his is a sophisticated operation by an organized crime group,” the warrant says.

Investigators allege that 1,273 duplicate driver’s licenses were sent to three neighboring addresses at a marijuana growing site in Tecumseh, Oklahoma.

According to the documents, Li lived at the property at some point and his belongings were still there when investigators executed a residential search warrant on Feb. 9.

A person living at the property said Li had not returned since November 2022.

That person told investigators that “suspicious mail to any of the three suspected addresses was placed in the office and area of the marijuana grow structure where Li would visit to pick it up.”

Authorities found three illegally duplicated licenses and 30 pieces of mail from Texas DPS.

Officials told The Dallas Morning News they have identified nearly $700,000 in losses, and they expect the amount to grow as more victims come forward.

Security Breach

The issue was related to security problems with the payment portal, managed by the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), where Texans can order a replacement, renewal, or duplicate license.

The criminals used the “dark web” to steal credit card information to buy duplicate driver’s licenses of Texans with Asian surnames, DPS told lawmakers in February.

Before the lapse, the DIR payment system did not have security features in place.

DPS Deputy Directory of Law Enforcement Services Jeoff Williams said the department had asked DIR to strengthen the security features to protect Texans using the website.

The portal now requires purchasers to use credit card security features such as a billing ZIP code or credit card CVV, a three-digit code on the back of the credit card.

Officials waited until late February to notify victims by letter, citing an ongoing investigation.

At least 4,900 letters were reportedly sent to victims as of April 21.

What Else?

Li and another suspect, identified as Yan Chen, were arrested at the Chase Bank in Lindon, Utah, where police responded to a call that two suspects had provided false information to a bank teller.

A third suspect, Song Chen, who was arrested, was found inside the 2023 Porsche Cayenne that was purchased using a fraudulent ID, according to the warrant.

The suspects were found with five duplicate licenses belonging to men in Texas.

Authorities have recovered duplicate licenses as far away as a ski resort in Canada. And local police found more than 600 in a hotel room in Smyrna, Tennessee, according to The Dallas Morning News.

It is unclear what role Yan Chen and Song Chen may have had in the scheme, and DPS has not identified other possible suspects.

DPS did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

Li is being held on a $250,000 bond in the Travis County Jail. The investigation is ongoing.

From The Epoch Times

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