Prosecutors say a network of DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) employees based at a California office accepted tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to give people driver’s licenses without passing the necessary tests, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
One of the DMV employees, 44-year-old Jovana Tameka Nettles, pleaded guilty to mail fraud for accepting the cash bribes while she was a manager at a DMV office in Lincoln Park, according to the Times.
At state Department of Motor Vehicles offices in Torrance and Lincoln Park, workers have accepted tens of thousands of dollars in payoffs, federal prosecutors say.
The scale of the graft is not yet clear.https://t.co/XizxOdCh93
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) May 18, 2021
Nettles was reportedly part of a conspiracy with her colleagues to give people passing scores on their written and driving tests in exchange for cash, and is the fifth former DMV employee in Southern California to admit to being part of the scheme.
The network was uncovered after a DMV investigator noticed that the Torrance office was processing driver’s license applications in a suspicious manner, according to the Times.
The investigator was ultimately led to Huel Kennedy, a DMV employee who admitted to accepting more than $50,000 total in bribes on a weekly basis.
The head of the conspiracy was Atancio Villegas, a license registration examiner at the Torrance office between 2010 and 2016, prosecutors say, according to the Times. In March, Villegas pleaded guilty to mail fraud and described how between 2016 and 2017, a network of “brokers” would act as middlemen by forwarding bribes from aspiring drivers to the DMV employees after getting in touch with him.
The bribes were regular. Villegas and other DMV employees would accept them at least several times a week, his plea agreement reportedly stated. DMV employees who were in on the scheme would be approached by drivers who are told to enter the office and look for an employee window with a specific “identifier.” (RELATED: California Admits DMV Error Added Non-Citizens To Voter Rolls)
An informant helped lead law enforcement to more evidence of the bribes. Villegas reportedly admitted that an informant paid a broker $3,000 in exchange for a commercial truck driver’s license upgrade. Villegas would place the bribes in the DMV employees’ lockers, according to the Times.
In 2015, six people — including three workers for California’s DMV — were charged with conspiring in a bribery scheme that involved issuing driver’s licenses to drivers of 18-wheel cargo trucks in exchange for up to $5,000 each, according to the Baltimore Sun. More than 100 commercial driver’s licenses were reportedly issued in the scheme, and the truckers who were given the licenses were involved in 23 non-fatal accidents while driving with the licenses.