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Press Release

Former State Employee And Her Husband Sentenced To Prison For Conspiring To Unlawfully Produce Tennessee Driver's Licenses

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – On May 24, 2024, Cheryl Huff, 49, of Knoxville, and Mario Paz-Mejia (“Paz”), 51, of Knoxville, who are married, were sentenced by the Honorable Katherine A. Crytzer, United States District Judge, in the United States District Court at Knoxville.  Huff was sentenced to 37 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release.  Paz was sentenced to 30 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release.

As part of their plea agreements filed with the court, Huff and Paz agreed to plead guilty for conspiring to produce over one hundred false Tennessee driver’s licenses and identification cards for individuals who were not lawfully qualified to receive them, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028(f).

As set forth in the filed plea agreements, Huff was a District Manager for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TDSHS), which issues Tennessee driver’s licenses and identification cards at various Driver Service Centers (DSC) across Tennessee.  Huff managed and supervised DSC employees in the Greater Knoxville area and had authority to issue driver’s licenses and application cards.

Paz recruited individuals who were neither citizens of the United States nor residents of Tennessee who wanted to acquire a Tennessee driver’s license or identification card.  Using his association with Huff, Paz represented to his customers that, in return for $2,500, he could obtain for them a Tennessee driver’s license or identification card.  Paz also assisted his customers in obtaining false citizenship and residency documents—two requirements to obtain a Tennessee driver’s license—including fraudulent lease agreements to establish proof of Tennessee residency, and false birth certificates, Social Security cards, and driver’s licenses from other states and U.S. territories to establish proof of citizenship or legal residency in the United States. 

Huff knew, or deliberately ignored a high probability, that Paz was helping his customers obtain false citizenship and residency documents and that Paz charged his customers money to obtain a Tennessee driver’s license or identification card.

Huff used her access to TDSHS’s internal software to confirm that the names and information on the false citizenship and residency documents used by Paz’s customers could be used to obtain a Tennessee driver’s license or identification card.  For example, on June 23, 2021, Paz-Mejia texted Huff the name, date of birth, and personal information used on false identification documents, asking Huff to “check that please.”  Huff responded, “All of these are not on file.  They’re good.” 

After Paz’s customers acquired false citizenship and residency documents, Paz arranged to meet them at a Knoxville-area DSC before business hours.  With Huff’s assistance, Paz escorted his customers into DSCs before business hours, including through a backdoor employee-only entrance.  Once Paz and his customers were inside, Huff initiated driver’s license applications using TDSHS software.  Huff also instructed subordinate DSC employees to complete applications and issue driver’s licenses to many of Paz’s customers.

U.S. Attorney Francis M. Hamilton III of the Eastern District of Tennessee made the announcement.

This prosecution was the result of an ongoing investigation by 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.

William A. Roach, Jr., Assistant United States Attorney, represented the United States.



Rachelle Barnes
Public Affairs Officer
(865) 545-4167

Updated May 24, 2024

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