Federal authorities have arrested the owner of American Truck Driving Academy, located in Lee County, on a variety of charges that include conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud.

James Welburn, 72, was arrested Thursday after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Montgomery.

Welburn is a resident of Columbus, Georgia, and owns the truck-driving school located off U.S. 80 near the Marvyn community south of Opelika in Lee County.

Details of the indictment were released Friday from U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin Sr. They reveal allegations of a pay-off scheme in which Welburn is accused of bribing license examiners to show favoritism toward students of his school.

“The indictment charges that Welburn paid bribes to a commercial driver’s license (CDL) examiner in exchange for the examiner showing preferential treatment to American Truck Driving Academy students when those students took CDL driving exams,” a statement from Franklin’s office stated.

“Specifically, Welburn paid the examiner $25 per student tested by the examiner,” it stated.

In exchange for the bribes, “the examiner agreed to do things like:

“(1) test students even though students had not possessed learner’s permits for at least 14 days, as required by federal regulations;

“(2) test more than five students in a single day, in violation of state law; and

“(3) refrain from testing students on certain trucking maneuvers if the students were unlikely to be able to perform the maneuvers.

“Additionally, the examiner agreed to give American Truck Driving Academy students ‘the benefit of the doubt’ on all road tests,” the statement claims.

The indictment charges Welburn with conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud offenses. If convicted of the most serious charges, Welburn faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on each count.

He also faces substantial monetary penalties and restitution.

An indictment alleges that crimes have been committed. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Franklin said.

“This case was investigated by the United States Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General with assistance from the Georgia Department of Drivers Services, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the United States Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General, and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

"Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan S. Ross and Thomas R. Govan Jr. are prosecuting the case,” Franklin said.

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Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He previously served as the news editor in New York for the nation's second largest newspaper company, and as the senior editor at several other news entities around the nation. He is an Auburn alum.

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