An official of the D.C. Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation yesterday and charged with conspiring to accept bribes from a District used car dealer in return for supplying the dealer with temporary license plates.
Joseph William Gant, 61, of 2405 Savannah St. SE, a supervisor in the bureau's enforcement division, was charged with conspiring to receive bribes from James C. Rettaliata, owner of Car Plaza, a used car dealership on New York Avenue NW.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Gant, whose salary was $29,343 a year, had worked for the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services for more than 20 years, according to a city official. He was released on personal recognizance yesterday after appearing before U.S. Magistrate Jean J. Dwyer.
According to an affidavit by FBI agent Daniel E. Lund, Rettaliata told a D.C. police detective he gave Gant cash, wine and lottery tickets in exchange for issuing temporary tags to Rettaliata's customers. Rettaliata was arrested in July on charges of trafficking in stolen property for allegedly receiving two videotape players, a microscope and silverware. The case is pending.
According to the affidavit, many of the vehicles sold by Rettaliata did not have proper ownership titles, so their buyers needed temporary tags because they could not register the cars with the city. When the tags expired, some buyers were forced to go to Rettaliata as many as three or four times to buy new temporary tags, the affidavit said.
Rettaliata told the police detective, who secretly recorded the conversation, that he gave Gant $10 for temporary tags effective for 20 days, the affidavit stated. It said Rettaliata explained that if customers went directly to the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services, they could get tags that would be good for only two or three days.
Rettaliata said Gant told him he had similar deals with four or five other used car dealers, the affidavit stated.
According to the affidavit, Rettaliata said Gant likes to "live high" and once said he "was sorry that he was tied up in the office because it kept him off the street, where he could pick up money."
The affidavit also said that Christopher J. Hazer, who worked for Rettaliata at Car Plaza, said Rettaliata paid Gant $20 for temporary car tags. He said Rettaliata gave Gant $100 bribes for truck tags.
He said on three trips this year to the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services for temporary tags, he slipped Gant envelopes from Rettaliata containing $20 and recieved completed registration forms and tags.
Hazer said Rettaliata also "rented out" about 45 dealer's tags for up to $150 per month and gave Gant a "cut" from the rental income, according to the affidavit. He said Rettaliata's customers used the tags to transport cars that they bought at wholesale auctions.
Hazer was arrested in July for trafficking in stolen license tags. That charge was dropped in October, after Hazer reached an agreement with prosecutors under which he will plead guilty to aiding and abetting the bribing of a public official, according to court papers.
Another Rettaliata employe, David McEachen, said he had accompanied Hazer on three trips to Gant's office to deliver between $15 and $20 in exchange for temporary tags and registration.
He said that Rettaliata would sell the tags, which cost $5 if purchased from the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services, for $35 to $50.
McEachen began cooperating with the FBI after he was arrested in July on a charge of altering an official document, according to the bureau's affidavit.