Cracking down on license fraud in an effort to thwart wider criminal activity, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett yesterday announced criminal charges against 22 people accused of using fake identities and fictitious Social Security numbers to acquire driving privileges.

"Obtaining a driver's license not only makes it legal for a person to drive, it serves as their primary form of photo identification," Corbett said. "A fake ID is a tool of the criminal trade."

Many of the defendants have multiple aliases and previous felony convictions. The investigation began in 2004 after a man fled a downed aircraft in West Virginia in which 500 pounds of cocaine, some of it wrapped as Christmas presents, was discovered. The man, who ultimately escaped, had checked into a motel using a fake Pennsylvania driver's license. Using that case as a lead example, investigators unearthed other unrelated cases in which suspects allegedly used the Social Security numbers of children and dead people to hide their true identities.

A majority of the fraudulent names are those of "minor children of welfare recipients, some of whom may have sold their children's Social Security information and name for profit," Corbett's office said in a statement.

- Michael Matza