A former driver's license examiner at a Fayette County center, who took bribes for passing scores on the driving portion of exams, avoided a jail sentence, over the objections of the district attorney.
Marvin Mills, 58, of Vanderbilt pleaded guilty in September to 16 counts of bribery, two counts of tampering with public records and one count of unsworn falsification.
State police said Mills took cash payments ranging from $300 to $700 — many from Bhutanese refugees living in Pittsburgh — in exchange for passing scores on their drivers' tests.
Judge Steve Leskinen on Wednesday sentenced Mills to two years intermediate punishment, with one year to be served on house arrest under electronic monitoring. The intermediate punishment is to be followed by 35 months of probation.
District Attorney Jack Heneks wanted Mills sent to jail.
He said Mills' actions put unsafe drivers behind the wheel, many of whom were later ticketed for safety violations.
“We don't know of any fatalities, but we do know of a number of accidents caused by these drivers,” Heneks said. “This is not a mere case of a victimless crime.”
Defense attorney Thomas Shaffer wanted Mills to remain free because his wife and 19-year-old son both have medical problems.
Shaffer said Mills took the bribes to pay for his wife's medicine. He now works as a bus driver in Allegheny County to support her, he said.
“If he goes to jail, the taxpayers will have to support his wife,” Shaffer said. “He hasn't rested on his laurels. He's gainfully employed.”
Leskinen said prison was not appropriate because, under state sentencing guidelines, none of the crimes calls for incarceration in state prison. Heneks asked that the sentences be imposed consecutively to allow for a prison term, but Leskinen said that is done only when a defendant is charged with crimes “involving multiple different conduct.”
He compared the case to those of public officials who are found guilty of stealing public dollars but avoid prison by entering into the probationary Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, or ARD.
“This is a level of public corruption … but we've had cases where public officials have embezzled substantial amounts of money from public agencies and have received ARD,” Leskinen said.
Leskinen said the only difference between those cases and Mills' is that “Mr. Mills is black, and the other defendants were all white.”
Heneks said the decision to prosecute Mills, or to seek a jail sentence, was unrelated to his race.
Leskinen noted Mills, a 14-year state employee, likely will forfeit his pension.
Mills pleaded guilty to taking bribes totaling $5,980 from 16 people. They still had to take their tests, he testified, and some passed.
Police said that between June 2009 and August, Mills gave driving tests to 346 Bhutanese applicants. Only seven failed.
Kurt J. Myers, PennDOT deputy secretary for driver and vehicle services, said in a letter to the court that 339 drivers who tested with Mills were retested, and 218 failed. Of the 339, 114 had previously failed the test at other centers, according to Myers.
“As egregious as those facts are, even more troubling is the fact that at least 83 of the 339 individuals have accumulated traffic safety violations after receiving a driver license from Mr. Mills,” Myers said in the letter, which Heneks read during the sentencing hearing.
Mills' co-workers became suspicious when he disobeyed supervisors' orders or changed the schedule to ensure he was always the examiner who tested the foreigners.
Applicants from Pittsburgh often arrived by the busload, police said. Some came from as far away as Erie.