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Former Court Clerk Accused of Fixing Tickets in Fontana

November 05, 2003|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

A former Fontana Superior Court clerk was arrested Tuesday, accused of accepting bribes to dismiss traffic tickets using the court computer, prosecutors said.

If convicted on all 28 counts of bribery, conspiracy, falsification of a government document and embezzlement, Monica Vargas, 33, of Fontana could face up to 10 years in prison, according to San Bernardino County Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Maxwell.

Maxwell said Vargas had been a court employee since January 1999 and committed the crimes between Aug. 14, 2001, and June 27, 2002. She left the job soon after that period.

Prosecutors are not certain how many tickets Vargas allegedly dismissed, but Maxwell said he believes they have the proof to convict her of fixing 10 tickets. He said Vargas charged up to $1,500 to dismiss a drunk driving case. In some cases, he said, she eliminated traffic tickets for nothing.

Vargas worked with another person who accepted the money on her behalf, Maxwell said. Vargas would then log on to her court computer and produce a false court order indicating that the case was dismissed by a judge, he said.

"It was easy to pull off because the clerks have all the power of the court," Maxwell said.

Still, he said, such ticket-fixing schemes are not common. "This is the first one I've been aware of, and I've been on the job for 30 years," Maxwell said.

Vargas' alleged crimes were uncovered when an employee of the district attorney's office noticed that a state Department of Motor Vehicles record showing a drunk driving case was dismissed did not match other records. The driver in question eventually admitted to investigators that he had paid a bribe to have the charges dismissed, Maxwell said. The man, whom prosecutors declined to identify, is cooperating with prosecutors, he said.

No one else has been arrested, but Maxwell said the investigation continues. All the tickets that Vargas allegedly dismissed have been reinstated.

On Tuesday, J. Michael Welch, presiding judge for San Bernardino County Superior Court, said several security measures have been added to the court's computer system since discovery of the crimes. For example, he said, the court has reduced access to certain court records and has added new password requirements for clerks using the computers.

"We've been doing everything we can since this came to light," he said.

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