A federal jury has convicted a former PennDOT driver's license examiner in Philadelphia of extortion and of making false statements to federal agents in connection with a scheme to take bribes for issuing driver's licenses to ineligible applicants.
Jurors deliberated for just 45 minutes before returning the verdict late Wednesday against Harold Palmer, 44, of Southwest Philadelphia.
Authorities said Palmer took cash payments from a co-conspirator, Saman Salem, of up to $300 a month from January 2008 to March 2010 to issue driver's licenses to individuals - many of them undocumented workers or foreign nationals - without regard for their qualifications.
Salem, who operated an illegal business that assisted individuals in obtaining bogus driver's licenses, pleaded guilty in June to unlawful production of identification documents, extortion, tax evasion and related offenses, and is to be sentenced in February.
Prosecutors did not call Salem to testify against Palmer, who worked at PennDOT's driver's license center on Columbus Boulevard.
Palmer, who resigned his PennDOT job in March, took the witness stand in his own defense.
He admitted that he had taken cash payments from Salem but testified that the payments had not been in exchange for issuing driver's licenses. He said they were "tips" he had received for being a nice guy as an examiner.
The jury didn't believe him.
U.S. District Judge Berle Schiller set sentencing for March 9. Prosecutors said Palmer could face at least two years in a federal lockup under advisory sentencing guidelines.
Palmer is one of 22 people who have been charged by federal authorities as part of an investigation spanning more than two years, dubbed "Operation Blind Spot." It has probed illegal businesses that assisted undocumented workers, foreign nationals and others in obtaining driver's licenses through fraudulent means at various PennDOT driver's license centers in Philadelphia.
To date, 20 of those charged have either pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial.
Of those who have been sentenced, punishments have ranged from probation to more than nine years in prison.