BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Jefferson County Revenue Department employee has been placed on leave after appearing to accept money to move a customer to the front of a car tag line.
The video was exclusively obtained by FOX6 News and prompted an investigation by the county and by the sheriff's department.
How We Got the Video
We've all seen the video on TV, hundreds of people in line, waiting for hours to get their license plates and license renewals at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
A Fox6 viewer sent us the video. We'll call him Joe. We are not disclosing his identity.
Joe said he went to the courthouse and asked how he could get through the line faster. He said a Jefferson County Department of Revenue employee told him he could move to the front of the line if he paid a $40 fee.
Joe said he went along with it because he thought it was a joke. When he didn't pay the $40 he was kicked to the back of the line.
But he said he went back to the line at a later date, with his cell phone in hand to get proof. Joe said he turned it over to Fox6 because he wanted to know if this was happening to other people and because he thought it was wrong.
Employee Caught on Tape, Apparently Taking Money to Move Taxpayers to Front of the Line
The video is almost five minutes long. Joe walks up to the counter and asks the woman behind the counter if she still has his information. She said she deleted it and he gives her his name, address and phone number to get the process started.
Joe: "So, I have to pay $40 to keep from standing in line? Ya'll got a good little hustle going.
Jefferson Co. Employee: "Exactly."
The lines are frustrating for everyone customers and county employees. It seems the Jefferson County employee in this video is using that frustration to her advantage. Joe asked the employee several times about the money exchange.
Joe: "I thought ya'll were playing."
Jefferson Co. Employee: "No. Ain't nobody playing."
Moments later in the video, Joe challenges the employee: "I didn't know ya'll were going to charge me $40 to come over here."
The employee is heard reminding Joe it's not a joke and indicates others may be working with her: "Yes, you did because she told you over there before you came over here."
The employee is seen counting money from Joe. She puts the cash for his tags in the register or a drawer and puts aside the extra $40.
"This is for the tag," she said, while referencing one pile of cash.
"And this is ours," she is heard saying on the tape and appears to motion toward another person.
The Jefferson County employee is also heard on tape saying others have paid more to move to the front of the line. She can also be seen and heard laughing about it.
Joe: "I can't believe I'm getting extorted for $40."
Jefferson Co. Employee: "(laughs) You're not getting extorted. You're skipping the line."
Joe received his tag renewed in record time - about twenty minutes, but he said it cost him an extra $40.
Reaction from Jefferson County
We took this video to the Revenue Department Director Travis Hulsey. He watched the video while our cameras where rolling, but said he was unable to speak to us on camera for legal reasons.
Instead he gave us this statement:
"Any employee's behavior which betrays trust will not be condoned. It is unacceptable. Appropriate measures will be taken against any employee who exhibits inappropriate behavior and violates the public trust."
County Manager Tony Petelos confirmed that the employee that was recorded in our video has been put on leave.
At some point, Petelos said he will talk to us on camera.
The sheriff's department is also investigating, but it is important to note that the Jefferson County employee seen in the video has not been charged with anything as of Tuesday night.
The decision was made to conceal the employee's identity since she has not been charged. If and when she is charged, we will reveal her identity in the video and release her name.
Background on Jefferson County's Long Lines
The lines for car tags and other vehicle services are an ongoing problem in Jefferson County.
Jefferson County residents have stood in extreme temperatures and rain as the lines have extended outside the three courthouses where services are offered.
The county is cash-strapped and has layed-off hundreds of employees.
FOX6 News Archive Stories about Long Tag Lines:
March 29, 2013: JeffCo hopes 6 additional workers will trim car tag lines
April 16, 2012: Center Point Courthouse Reopens
March 1, 2012: JeffCo Car Tag Line Brought in Out of Rain
February 22, 2012: Man Collapses is JeffCo Courthouse Line
It's not known at this time if there are other Jefferson County employees involved in the alleged plan to take money from taxpayers and move them to the front of the line. It seems that could be the case, based on things that are said in the video.
If you or someone you know paid to move to the front of the line, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.