AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

UPDATE: Truck and bus drivers face tight deadline to keep licenses

LATEST NEWS: Drivers certified for commercial licenses by an Atlanta chiropractor will have their licenses revoked unless they quickly retake medical exams, a federal agency is warning.

Chiropractor Anthony Lefteris is facing criminal charges that he faked medical exams for drivers to help them gain the licenses. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says it will revoke the licenses of the thousands of drivers certified by Lefteris in the past two years, unless they undergo new physicals within 30 days.

The agency is working with state driver license offices nationwide to identify the estimated 6,600 drivers, the agency said in a recent public notice. You can read it here: https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/fmcsa-public-notice-dr-anthony-lefteris-doctor-chiropractic-atlanta-georgia

Here is our previous coverage of the case:

A fraud scheme operated out of Atlanta may have certified drivers with dangerous health conditions to drive tractor trailers, buses and other large commercial vehicles, officials say.

To get commercial driver licenses, drivers are supposed to pass medical fitness tests to determine if they have lung diseases so severe or blood pressure so high that they may not be able to control the vehicles and drive safely. The exam is also supposed to screen for drug addictions, vision and hearing loss, and insulin-dependent diabetes.

Instead, a chiropractor operating out of the Petrol Stopping Center on Hollowell Parkway at I-285 in Atlanta gave drivers medical certificates without performing required examinations, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court here.

Anthony Lefteris was conducting an average of 360 medical exams a month, according to the complaint, while the typical medical examiner completes only about 14. Federal court documents indicate that drivers may have been certified without physical exams since early 2015. If so, he could have issued medical certificates to about 8,000 drivers before he was charged on Dec. 1.

"We will be working very closely with the state of Georgia to identify these individuals," said Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Affected drivers will then be notified and instructed to obtain proper medical exams.

Lefteris could not be reached for comment. A message on his phone said that his office was temporarily closed.

He started issuing medical certificates in May 2014, when the federal agency began requiring interstate drivers to obtain their medical certificate from a certified examiner listed on a national registry. Georgia also requires drivers seeking commercial licenses for intrastate transport to pass the medical exams.

It is unclear how officials first were alerted to concerns about Lefteris.

DeBruyne said that the federal agency monitors the national registry of those who are authorized to conduct the medical exams. "There is an audit that will flag unusual spikes or unusual activities," he said.

Federal Department of Transportation officials then conducted an undercover operation and surveillance and found Lefteris was issuing medical examiner certificates without conducting complete examinations, court documents say.

Following his arrest, Lefteris was released on $20,000 bond. He was removed from the national registry of certified examiners on Dec. 2, records show.

The move to require drivers to only get medical certificates from certified examiners is among the latest attempts to respond to horrific accidents involving commercial drivers.

Since the 1990s, some advocates have campaigned for tougher medical exams. Their campaign stepped up after 22 people were killed and 15 seriously injured in a 1999 bus accident in New Orleans. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board found that the driver had a commercial license despite life-threatening medical conditions including kidney failure and congestive heart disease. Those conditions, along with his use of marijuana and a sedating antihistamine, caused him to lose consciousness while on the interstate, investigators found.

The NTSB has pushed since then for improved federal medical oversight of commercial drivers.

In the past two years, federal investigators had uncovered several fraud schemes involving the medical exams. Among cases this fall, a New York physician pleaded guilty to fraud for improper exams from his office at JFK Airport; a Missouri chiropractor was sentenced for falsifying medical examiner certificates; and a Pennsylvania woman was charged with performing medical exams for CDL holders even though her chiropractic license had been revoked in 2013.

The issue of truck safety may be of particular importance in Georgia, which is among the top five states for fatality crashes involving commercial trucks, according to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety. Click here to read the AJC's investigation of how well Georgia protects motorists from truck dangers: http://specials.myajc.com/truck-dangers/









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