Investigators say people who failed driving tests, or just didn't want to take them, paid employees to put in fake scores so they could still get licenses at offices in suburban El Cajon and Rancho San Diego. Prosecutors say some of the bribes were as high as $3,000.
The people charged include five DMV employees and the head of a driving school in El Cajon. The others were mostly applicants accused of paying bribes.
The FBI made 17 arrests Wednesday in San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange counties. Two others were issued notices to appear in court, and two were at large.
Authorities say there's no sign the scheme created a national security threat. Investigators also found no evidence that the applicants were illegal immigrants.
The DMV has already started revoking the licenses involved.
Applicants paid $400 to $500 each for regular driver's licenses and between $2,500 and $3,000 for commercial driver's licenses, according to the complaint.
Some applicants were unfit to drive, according to the complaint. In September, one applicant got a license after stopping at a green light and driving on the wrong side of the road four times during her test.
The investigation began after a three-month review of the El Cajon office in December 2010 raised questions. One applicant was shown completing the driver test that takes at least 20 minutes in only seven minutes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.