Tennessee Official and Spouse Admit to Illegally Producing and Selling ‘Hundreds’ of Driver’s Licenses to Illegal Immigrants

A Knoxville couple, Cheryl Huff and Mario Paz-Mejia, have admitted to orchestrating a conspiracy to create illegal identification documents, leading to their guilty pleas in federal court. The guilty pleas were entered on Thursday, and the couple now faces sentencing scheduled for May 24, 2024. If convicted, they could each receive up to 15 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.

The case was heard in the Eastern District of Tennessee’s U.S. District Court, where Cheryl Huff, who served as the District Manager for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TDSHS), and Mario Paz-Mejia faced legal repercussions under Judge Katherine A. Crytzer.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Huff was responsible for the issuance of legitimate driver’s licenses and identification cards in the Greater Knoxville area. Meanwhile, Mario Paz-Mejia played the role of an intermediary, soliciting individuals, mainly non-citizens and non-Tennessee residents, and offering them illegal access to Tennessee documentation for a hefty sum of $2,500.

As detailed by the DOJ, Paz-Mejia represented to his customers that for a fee, he could obtain a Tennessee driver’s license or identification card for them. He also helped his customers obtain false citizenship and residency documents, including fraudulent lease agreements, false birth certificates, social security cards, and driver’s licenses from other states and U.S. territories.

The investigation revealed that Huff used her access to TDSHS’s internal software to verify information on false citizenship and residency documents, allowing Paz-Mejia to use it to obtain a Tennessee driver’s license or identification card for his customers. Additionally, text messages between Paz-Mejia and Huff suggested that they worked together to facilitate the illegal activities.

United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Francis M. Hamilton III, expressed, “Abusing a position of public trust to commit any federal crime, including conspiracy to unlawfully produce false identification documents, undermines the public’s confidence in government functions and creates a serious security risk.” He also added that their office would aggressively prosecute government employees who abuse their trusted positions for personal gain.

Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long expressed great disappointment in the actions of the former Tennessee Driver Services District Manager and others involved in the conspiracy. Long thanked the departmental employees for having the courage to alert and cooperate with law enforcement on the case.

The investigation and prosecution were the result of collaborative efforts between the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Criminal Investigation Division, the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the United States Secret Service.

The case highlights the severe consequences of abusing positions of public trust and the implications of engaging in a conspiracy to unlawfully produce false identification documents. The sentencing in May will determine the legal consequences faced by Cheryl Huff and Mario Paz-Mejia for their roles in the illicit scheme.


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