California Department of Motor Vehicle employees at two Los Angeles-area offices took thousands of dollars in bribes to approve driver licenses, federal prosecutors said.
The extent of the corruption is not clear because many of the court records are under seal, but a former manager of the DMV’s Lincoln Park office — in L.A’.s Lincoln Heights area — is the fifth ex-employee in recent month to admit a role in the scheme, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
Jovana Tameka Nettles, 44, pleaded guilty Monday to mail fraud for taking cash bribes and admitted taking part in a conspiracy of DMV employees who approved licenses for unqualified drivers, the Times said.
A DMV investigator helped uncover the conspiracy when she spotted suspicious patterns in application processing at the Torrance office, court records said.
The investigation led to DMV employee Huel Kennedy, who admitted to accepting weekly bribes exceeding $50,000 and died after pleading guilty to bribery last summer, the Times said.
The newspaper reported that the Lincoln Park and Torrance offices were the location where workers were suspected of taking bribes.
A DMV statement said involved employees will be “appropriately disciplined.”
“Fraud prevention is one key component of customer service,” it said. “The DMV takes very seriously its responsibility to uphold the law as we serve our customers and we applaud our thousands of employees who work with integrity and pride.”
According to a plea agreement, the ringleader was Atanacio Villegas, who was a license registration examiner in Torrance from 2010 to 2016 and then transferred to a commercial driver license processing center for 10 months before he resigned.
The Times said Villegas agreed in March to plead guilty to mail fraud and admitted that a network of “brokers” would contact him on behalf of drivers who could not pass the exam and then forward the drivers’ bribes to DMV employees.
The scheme involved sending the drivers to the window of a participating DMV employee who had an “identifier,” such as a red hat.