The owners of a New York City driving school with ties to a deadly crash in Virginia used a jacket outfitted with a hidden camera to help an undercover officer cheat on a test for a commercial license, prosecutors said Thursday.
Ying Wai Phillip Ng and his wife, Pui Kuen Ng, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Hong Kong, were awaiting arraignment in federal court in Brooklyn on fraud charges. The name of their attorney was not immediately available.
The couple made a living by getting commercial driver's licenses for people "who did not possess the skills necessary to acquire such credentials, and as a result, have greatly endangered the general public," James T. Hayes Jr., head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New York, said in a statement.
The allegations stem from an ICE investigation of N&Y Professional Service Line, a Brooklyn driving school that was licensed by the state and that recruited students by advertising in the city's Chinese-language newspapers.
Records show that since January 2010, a least 720 people associated with the school have taken the test for commercial licenses. Authorities say one of the students was King Yiu Cheung, who authorities say admitted to falling asleep at the wheel when a low-fare bus from Greensboro, N.C., to New York City crashed on Interstate 95 just north of Richmond, Va.
Four passengers were killed. Cheung is facing manslaughter charges.
A criminal complaint in the Brooklyn case makes no specific allegation that Cheung cheated on his test. However, investigators suspect that the driving school owners "have been engaged in criminal conduct for years, involving potentially hundreds of drivers who ... drive trucks and buses without being able to pass a commercial driver's license test, or perhaps speak English at all," prosecutors wrote in court papers.
In January, an undercover agent -- fluent in Mandarin, wearing a wire and posing as a recent immigrant from China who had trouble speaking English -- went to the driving school seeking a license so he could drive a bus, authorities said. Authorities say the owners told him they could help him pass the written test in exchange for $1,800.
The wife "assured the (undercover agent) that he would have no problem passing the written test" or he would get his money back, the complaint says.
One morning last month, Phillip Ng drove the undercover agent in a minivan to state Department of Motor Vehicles on Staten Island, authorities said. Ng had the agent put on a jacket with a camera hidden in the right sleeve that provided a live feed to a video monitor inside the minivan, they said.
Ng allegedly instructed the agent that once inside, he should point the camera at the multiple-choice test. He also gave the agent a pager and explained it would vibrate twice if the correct answer was "A," four times for "B" and six for "C."
Under the system, the agent passed the test by correctly answering 86 of 95 questions, the complaint says. He returned to the parking lot to give Ng $1,800 in cash.
The complaint also alleges Ng later told the agent that he had "helped people with the written test for more than 10 years," and remarked how the paging system had failed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the terror attacks crippled wireless service.