Newspaper investigation says emails show top BMV officials knew residents were overcharged

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INDIANAPOLIS — Former Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles Commissioner R. Scott Waddell and other top officials knew for years that residents were being overcharged for driver's licenses and other fees, but did nothing to stop it until a class-action lawsuit was filed in 2013, a newspaper investigation found.

The Indianapolis Star obtained emails (http://indy.st/1BGLzjk ) that showed Waddell received a spreadsheet from a deputy BMV director identifying 17 overcharges two years before giving sworn testimony last year claiming he'd been "completely blindsided" by the revelations. State officials have characterized the overcharges as an innocent mistake.

A top deputy commissioner under Waddell has testified in a pending lawsuit that he urged Waddell and then-Chief of Staff Shawn Walters to conduct an independent audit of the bogus fees, but they refused.

At the time, state agencies were under pressure from then-Gov. Mitch Daniels to return cash to the treasury; refunding overcharges would have meant another budget hit.

The BMV overbilled residents more than $60 million between 2007 and 2013, with overcharges averaging more than $23,000 a day. A second lawsuit alleges that as much as $38 million more was wrongfully charged, a claim that the BMV is fighting.

The agency has begun to pay back the money.

BMV Commissioner Kent Abernathy, appointed to the post last month by Gov. Mike Pence, would not address questions about the overcharges, calling it "the battle of he said/she said taking place in the courts and the media." Former BMV officials also declined to comment.

BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie issued a statement Monday noting that the agency undercharged customers more than $140 million between 2006 and 2013, well more than the amount of overcharges. The state is not seeking to recoup that money.

"Hoosier motorists were, as a class, not harmed by the erroneous charges," he said.

Pence has said there is an ongoing review of the agency by an accounting firm that could identify more overcharges.

State Democratic Party Chairman John Zody on Monday called for an investigation by the Inspector General and Marion County prosecutor, and said he asked that the U.S. Attorney investigate.

"The BMV is the front door of state government, and someone needs to kick that door open and find out what is really going on in every way possible," Zody said in a written statement.

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