Four felony charges will be filed today against a former hearing officer for the state Department of Motor Vehicles who has admitted accepting money and sex in exchange for allowing negligent drivers to keep their licenses, an official said Tuesday.
Michael R. Tarrish, 47, of Artesia is to appear today in Los Angeles Municipal Court to answer one charge of bribery, one of corrupt misconduct and two of filing false documents with the DMV. The latter counts involve allegedly falsified smog certificates for Tarrish's private vehicles.
Bribery, the most serious of the offenses, carries a maximum penalty of four years in state prison.
"You're talking about corruption of a quasi-judicial process, a violation of the public trust," said Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Healey, who is prosecuting the case. "We regard that as serious conduct."
An investigation of six attorneys named by Tarrish during hours of interrogation by DMV investigators is continuing, Healey said, and should be concluded in a few weeks. Tarrish told investigators that the lawyers either loaned or gave him money, took him to lunch or offered other gifts, including the faked smog certificates. In many cases, Tarrish has said that he granted favorable rulings to the lawyers' clients.
Healey and Larry Guzin, Tarrish's attorney, said they have discussed a plea-bargain for the 20-year DMV veteran, but that no agreement has been reached. Guzin said he will ask for a postponement in court today to give him time to study the prosecution's evidence before Tarrish enters a plea.
"We can't appropriately take a position until we have done that," Guzin said.
Healey said his office would not agree to a settlement that precludes a judge from sending Tarrish to prison.
Most of the evidence against Tarrish is culled from lengthy statements he made to DMV investigators in the weeks before he was fired Jan. 6.
He repeated many of the same assertions in two interviews with The Times.
In those interviews, Tarrish said he did not keep track of all the money he received from attorneys, but estimated that it amounted to about $2,000 during a six- to eight-month period beginning early last year.
Most of the transactions were loans, not bribes, Tarrish said. However, in one case, Tarrish acknowledged that a $300 cash payment was a "direct bribe" that influenced the outcome of a case.
In another incident, Tarrish said he allowed a woman who had accumulated nine tickets, mostly for speeding, during a two-year period to keep her license in exchange for sexual favors.
Two lawyers never gave him money, Tarrish said, although one routinely paid for meals and a second aided him in obtaining the illegal smog certificates.
Tarrish was one of 137 driver-safety referees who hear tens of thousands of cases involving motorists who have accumulated too many tickets or who have medical problems that threaten their ability to drive safely. The referees have wide latitude to uphold or set aside action taken by the DMV to revoke or suspend driver's licenses.
In a recent interview, A. A. Pierce, the new director of the DMV, announced a series of steps he has taken to tighten controls over the driver safety program.