A District government employee has been arrested on charges that she took cash bribes in exchange for producing D.C. driver's licenses with false names, federal prosecutors said yesterday.
Lisa Bonita Johnson, a teller at the Georgetown office of the Department of Motor Vehicles, was apprehended Thursday after an undercover FBI investigation. Details emerged after documents in the case were unsealed yesterday in U.S. District Court.
Authorities said the FBI bought phony licenses from Johnson directly and through two male accomplices in July and August.
Johnson, 41, Craig Calvin Hughes, 42, and Gregory Murray, 38, all of the District, were arrested just before 1 p.m. Thursday at the office, a satellite operation in the Shops at Georgetown Park.
All three were brought before a federal judge yesterday to hear the bribery charges against them and were released pending a follow-up hearing next month. Hughes is a Department of Parks and Recreation employee, and Murray works for a clothing store.
With the new criminal filings, a federal and local task force that has been investigating public corruption within DMV operations since February 2003 has arrested seven people on charges of selling fraudulent licenses or fixing parking tickets for cash.
Four of those arrested in the probe so far were D.C. employees. They either worked for the DMV or, like Johnson, as tellers from the office of the chief financial officer stationed in DMV offices.
DMV Director Anne Witt acknowledged that the agency needs to do more to shore up its integrity.
"I will not pretend to be close to where we need to be," Witt said. "But I'm going to do everything I can to assure the integrity of our DMV operations. This issue is front and center in our department's priorities."
According to court papers, fellow employees told the task force last year that they suspected Johnson was improperly accepting money from customers. Investigators conducting surveillance noticed that several individuals would bypass the normal service line heading to the DMV information desk and proceed immediately to Johnson's office.
Undercover work began in earnest in April, records show, when a customs agent contacted the FBI with information about a middleman working in the Shops at Georgetown who was selling D.C. driver's licenses with fabricated names. An undercover FBI agent contacted the man, later identified as Hughes, on the cell phone number that the customs agent had obtained and offered to pay $3,200 for two driver's licenses with fake names.
In July and August, agents told the court, they paid cash to Hughes for several licenses and were then ushered by another middleman, Murray, to Johnson inside the DMV office. Johnson created the licenses, they said, and falsely reported in each case that the applicants had expired out-of-state licenses, had passed vision tests and had submitted proof that they were D.C. residents.
Johnson, who had worked for the chief financial officer for 21/2 years, was paid $32,114 a year as a teller. She is expected to be placed on enforced leave Monday.
The arrests shut down the busy DMV office for most of Thursday and all of yesterday and created chaos for people standing in line at the time.
"I always regret it's necessary, but I applaud any action that exposes and disrupts wrongdoing in our office," Witt said.
Motor vehicle agencies nationwide have been under scrutiny since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the discovery that many of the hijackers had easily obtained false identification in such offices.