Friday, August 7, 2009
C.A. Rules Man Used DMV to ‘Prepare’ False Evidence
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A former San Bernardino physician cannot escape prosecution for “preparing” false documentary evidence merely because he manipulated the Department of Motor Vehicles into making the document for him, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Affirming Sunil Kumar Bhasin’s conviction for violating Penal Code Sec. 134, Div. Two concluded it would be both “absurd and defeat the objective” of the statute to require that a defendant actually physically create the document.
The court further held that Bhasin’s use of a false DMV report at his trial for loan fraud and identity theft supported a conviction for offering forged, altered or antedated documentary evidence under Sec. 132, even though Bhasin’s counsel never “moved” the document into evidence.
According to the opinion, Bhasin—who surrendered his medical license in 2004 in the face of disciplinary proceedings—went to the Redlands DMV in San Bernardino County in 2002 and gave false information regarding the registered owner of a 1994 Mercedes Benz days before he was set to stand trial.
Bhasin had previously induced John Ferguson to tow the Mercedes—which had neither an engine nor transmission—from Orange County to Bhasin’s medical office in Riverside by telling Ferguson he could build his credit by signing a loan on the car without actually receiving any money.
However, a loan application and pay stubs in Ferguson’s name were submitted to a bank in San Antonio, Texas, which issued a $50,000 loan based on the Mercedes as collateral, and on the false representation that Ferguson—who did part time work for Bhasin as a handyman—earned over $50,000 per year.
The funds were immediately withdrawn after the bank deposited them into the account of a company owned by Bhasin, and Bhasin made only one payment to the bank. The car later disappeared before being found on the street in San Bernardino County in 2003.
When suspicion arose regarding the transaction, Bhasin initially told police that Ferguson bought the car with his own money, but later claimed that he loaned Ferguson the money and received the loan check after agreeing to repair the car for Ferguson.
Bhasin also said he gave the proceeds to Ferguson, but a search of Bhasin’s office reveled documents in Ferguson’s name, including the loan papers, several credit card applications and a credit report.
Charges were brought against Bhasin for loan fraud and identity theft, but days before trial, he went to the DMV and obtained a report of deposit of fees—which the DMV generates if a person presents evidence of the sale of a vehicle and wants to transfer the title and registration on the vehicle—listing Ferguson as the vehicle’s owner.
Bhasin gave the document to his counsel, Irvine attorney George Dunlop, who during cross-examination of Ferguson marked the RDF as a defense exhibit, read it into the record and showed it to Ferguson to impeach him and prove that Ferguson was the vehicle’s registered owner.
The prosecution became suspicious and, after obtaining a videotape showing Bhasin at the DMV office at the same time the report was generated, charged him with preparing false documentary evidence and offering forged, altered or antedated documentary evidence at trial.
Bhasin was convicted on both counts and contended on appeal that he neither offered the report “into evidence” nor actually “prepared” it, but Justice Betty Ann Richli rejected both arguments.
Brushing aside Bhasin’s interpretation of the language in Sec. 132 as a “term of art,” she wrote that “[t]here simply is no requirement that a document must be moved into evidence in order to constitute a violation.”
Richli then opined that the fact that Bhasin did not physically make the DMV report was not fatal to his conviction under Sec. 134.
Noting that the objective of the statute is to prevent the fraudulent introduction of material in a proceeding under the authority of law, she wrote that “[i]f we were to conclude that defendant, clearly a savvy man, could avoid prosecution under section 134 by being smart enough to have someone else create a fraudulent document for him, it would defeat this purpose.”
Justices Thomas E. Hollenhorst and Art W. McKinster joined Richli in her opinion.
The case is People v. Bhasin, 09 S.O.S. 4780.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company