Superior Court Clerk Jose Lopez at Center of Massive Bribery scheme of Forged records for Drunk Drivers
– LA Times
“FBI investigators have been looking into the allegations against Lopez since June 2015 when court officials publicly acknowledged the seemingly brazen gambit. At the time, a lawyer representing the Orange County court system said officials had identified manipulated cases dating back to 2010.
According to the indictment, Lopez demanded bribes as high as $8,000 to fix cases. The others charged in the case are accused of working as middlemen who funneled cash to Lopez.
Ten of the men, including Lopez, were arrested Wednesday morning. The two who remain at large are expected to be taken into custody in coming days, officials said.”
…Continue reading @ LA Times
Court clerk, 11 recruiters accused of illegally fixing more than 1,000 DUI, traffic cases
– OC Register
“SANTA ANA – A former Orange County Superior Court clerk has been indicted on federal racketeering charges for allegedly fixing more than 1,000 court cases in exchange for bribe money, authorities said Wednesday.
Jose Lopez, 38, of Anaheim and nine of his alleged “recruiters” were arrested Wednesday morning; two more are expected to be arrested as well.
Over five years, Lopez is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to illegally resolve tickets for people charged with drunk driving or other traffic offenses. Prosecutors said Lopez charged up to $8,000 per case.
People who paid the bribes were solicited directly by Lopez or by a recruiter, prosecutors said.
As a result, hundreds of defendants had charges dismissed, saw fees reduced, or avoided jail time after paying money to Lopez or a middleman who took bribes on his behalf, prosecutors said. In part, a 69-page indictment says, recruiters found people through car and truck clubs.
United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker on Wednesday said the scam was a staggering abuse of Orange County’s court system.
“Some of these cases involved drunk driving, which is a very serious charge and the individuals involved in those cases were not held accountable,” she said. “We want the public to know that we take this very seriously. Nothing is more important than the integrity of our judicial system.”
Lopez is accused of illegally resolving 1,034 cases: 69 misdemeanor DUI cases, 160 other misdemeanor cases and another 805 traffic cases.
Federal prosecutors say they believe they have found all of the tampered cases. Decker said the court has re-opened and reviewed all of them.
Prosecutors said Lopez, who eventually was fired, would “resolve” cases by changing information in the court’s computers to make it appear that defendants had paid fees or performed the required community service and, in some cases, he forged prosecutor signatures.
In some drunk-driving cases, he falsified records to indicate that a defendant had pleaded guilty to reckless driving, thereby allowing the person to avoid a drunk-driving charge, prosecutors said. He also allegedly changed records to make it appear that second-time DUI offenders had served mandatory jail time when they had not.
The FBI’s probe was kicked off last year when a courtroom employee noticed a single document was missing; the file contained the clerk’s employee ID. Other DUIs and other misdemeanor traffic cases tied to Lopez were inspected.
As a result, the hundreds of defendants were called back into court last year to determine whether their cases should be re-started. Many saw plea deals reversed, while others were ordered to pay new fines.
Court officials on Wednesday said the process is complete and that every case now reflects the proper outcome.
“The integrity of the court, its records, and personnel are paramount,” Orange County Superior Court says in a statement. “While this incident revealed a flaw in the court’s minute entry and audit practices, the court has spent countless hours refining its auditing practices and redesigning its software to insure that any attempt to improperly modify court records will immediately come to the attention of a supervisor.”
Lopez used the bribe money – the total amount is still undetermined – to fund vacations abroad, trips to Las Vegas, and the opening of a Mexican restaurant in Garden Grove, prosecutors said.
Lopez was hired as a clerk in 2008 and three years later promoted to a program coordinator specialist, when he had access to the court’s online case-management system.
The case was investigated for more than a year and presented to a federal grand jury, which handed down a 38-count indictment.
Prosecutors said Lopez and several of his co-defendants attempted to persuade witnesses to lie about the scheme when questioned by authorities.
The recruiters charged in the indictment:
• Ricardo Quinones, 32, of Santa Ana
• Juan C. Rosas Santillana, 32, of Chino Hills
• Ramon Salvador Vasquez, 27, of Santa Ana
• Manuel Galindo Jr., 26, of Santa Ana
• Gibram Rene Lopez, also known as “Ivan,” 26, of Anaheim
• Agustin Sanchez Jr., 32, of Santa Ana
• Luis Alberto Flores Guillen, also known as “Bills,” 26, of Santa Ana
• Oscar Centeno, also known as “Mosquito,” 26, of Santa Ana
• Javed Asefi, also known as “Joey,” 43, of Ladera Ranch
• Jeff Reynes Fernandez, also known as “Lean,” 24, of Fullerton
• Jesus Saldana, 28, of Garden Grove
The defendants are expected to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon in United States District Court in Santa Ana. Two had not been arrested as of Wednesday morning.
Lopez and the alleged recruiters are charged with participating in a conspiracy to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.”
….Continue reading @ OC Register