- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Brookland restaurant owner was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison for bribing a public official in a scheme to obtain D.C. driver’s licenses for foreign nationals.

Gloria Gonzalez-Paz, 35, of Lanham, also was sentenced to 250 hours of community service and 36 months of supervised release after her prison term.

Gonzalez-Paz, who is in the United States on a temporary work permit, eventually could lose her the permit as a result of the conviction. She emigrated from El Salvador 18 years ago, and with her husband runs the Tropicana Eatery franchise, a Jamaican-style restaurant on 12th Street Northeast.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said Gonzalez-Paz’s contributions to her community and her clean record moved him to slightly reduce the sentence. “This is not a typical sentencing for this court to have,” Judge Leon said. “The immigrants in front of the court rarely have the accomplishments that you have.”

The defendant pleaded guilty in May and admitted to soliciting the assistance of a D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles employee to make a driver’s license for an illiterate uncle. The employee, Patricia Gonzalez, agreed and bypassed the required eye and driving tests for the relative. Soon afterward, Gonzalez-Paz began bringing other foreigners who could not get a D.C. license because they did not live in the city or were not legal residents.

A second person, Salvador Diaz, 33, also was involved in the scheme, bringing dozens of illegal immigrants to Gonzalez for licenses, charging $1,000 to $1,7000 each.

Gonzalez-Paz would later pay Gonzalez $500 to $700 for each fraudulent license.

“I have lived here for 18 years and have not had problems big or small,” said Gonzalez-Paz, who addressed the court in Spanish before her sentencing. “I know what I did was bad, but I didn’t do it because I am a bad person.”

Diaz, of Silver Spring, who has also pleaded guilty to bribing a public official, will be sentenced in October.

The DMV employee, Gonzalez, who pleaded guilty to receipt of a bribe by a public official, is scheduled for sentencing Wednesday .

Nine others have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fraud in connection with the scheme and await sentencing.

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