NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Thousands of Texas drivers could have their licenses revoked, through no fault of their own.
It’s the result of a story Consumer Justice first broke in February, when A-ABC Driving School in Irving and Academy-1 Driving School in Euless shut down without notice.
The schools were owned by onetime couple Judy Rohrssen and Tony Cooper. After the relationship ended years ago, the business partnership continued, with Rohrssen running the schools. Things went smoothly until 2015, when Cooper says he started asking questions after hearing from driving school employees. He says at least two employees saw his signature on documents at the school.
One of the employees told Consumer Justice, “I was looking through paperwork and saw his signature and it was weird to me because I’d never seen him at the driving school.”
The woman worked at A-ABC and Academy-1 for two years. “One time I asked the other girl that was working there… she said ‘oh he really doesn’t come here but we sign his name.’ ” She says Cooper was listed as the teacher of record on every driving record. State law requires the teacher of record to sign off on each student’s form showing the student successfully completed the course and is eligible to get their drivers license.
Cooper says once he got involved, he learned both schools were in complete disarray and shut them down. That’s when he says he found boxes of files from another driving school. The files belonged to Alliance Driving School in Watauga — a school owned by Rohrssen’s daughter. He showed Cristin Severance the forms filled with his signature, saying, “These are all good forgeries. They look pretty close but they’re not my signature in any way,” adding, “there’s literally thousands and thousands of forged documents in there.”
Consumer Justice uncovered state documents showing Tony Cooper listed as the teacher of record for all three schools from 2012 to 2015. Records from previous years have been destroyed.
The Texas Education Agency, or TEA, was in charge of Texas’ 559 driving schools until 2015, when the legislature voted to move the program to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, or TDLR.
Officials with the TDLR say the TEA failed to regularly check the schools, cars, or verify the teacher of record. “We have documentation of a few inspections; they were not done annually,” said Cari Hodges.
The TDLR is now investigating if Cooper’s name was forged on documents at all three schools over the last ten years. If the allegations are found to be true, TDLR officials say the school or instructors could face fines and penalties. When asked what it could mean for the tens of thousands of students that graduated from the schools, Hodges said, “It could potentially mean that their information they gave to DPS to obtain a drivers license was falsified. At that point in time, their drivers license privileges could be revoked.”
The TDLR does not want to punish drivers who had no idea their records contained a forged signature, but officials say it would ultimately be up to the DPS to decide.
Investigators with the TDLR are also working to gather all the records from A-ABC and Academy-1, to help students who were in the middle of the course when the schools shut down. The state says it’s missing the last five months’ worth of records from A-ABC, meaning those students have no proof they attended classes or paid the $400 fee. The TDLR has sent a subpoena to Rohrssen demanding the last three years worth of student records at A-ABC and Academy-1.
Rohrssen declined to be interviewed but her attorney tells us she adamently denies all allegations of forgery. Brian Clark says Cooper approved the use of his signature at all three schools up until 2015, when Cooper filed a civil lawsuit against Rohrssen and her daughter Nichole Mark. Mark owns Alliance Driving School, where Rohrssen is employed. Clark says while Rohrssen intends to fully cooperate with the TDLR, she does not have any of the documents.
The TDLR is promising much more rigorous oversight of all driving schools in Texas, with each school being inspected at least once a year.