SANTA ANA, California – A former clerk of the Orange County Superior Court in Southern California pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal racketeering charges stemming from a scheme in which he accepted more than a quarter-million dollars in bribes to illegally resolve criminal cases and traffic offenses on terms favorable to hundreds of defendants without the knowledge of prosecutors or judges.
The case involves over a dozen of defendants and 10 others have also pleaded guilty or have agreed to plead guilty, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.
Jose Lopez Jr., 36, of Anaheim, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
In a plea agreement filed last week, Lopez admitted that he was at the center of a scheme in which co-conspirators paid him as much as $8,000 in bribes to “fix” cases.
The co-conspirators were middlemen who recruited individuals with pending cases to pay money that was given to Lopez to resolve their cases without the authorization of the court.
“In total, defendant [Lopez] improperly resolved approximately 1,034 cases, including 69 misdemeanor driving under the influence cases, 160 other misdemeanor cases and 805 traffic-related infraction cases,” Lopez admitted in the plea agreement.
Over the course of more than five years, Lopez “resolved” cases by entering information into the court’s computers to make it appear that a defendant had pleaded guilty, paid required fees or had performed community service.
In some cases, Lopez fraudulently created records that made it appear drunk driving charges had been dismissed or defendants had served mandatory jail time.
In addition to taking bribes and falsifying court records, Lopez also forged the signature of a prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
The conspiracy ended in the spring of 2015 when the court learned about the misconduct and took steps to reopen the cases that Lopez tampered with.
“This defendant compromised the justice system in Orange County to line his pocket with money he used to travel abroad, take trips to Las Vegas and open a Mexican restaurant,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “This scheme affected hundreds of cases and caused havoc in the Orange County Superior Court – problems that were further complicated when the former clerk encouraged others to lie about the scheme.”
Lopez pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Josephine L. Staton, who is scheduled to sentence the defendant on September 22. As a result of today’s guilty plea, Lopez faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
“The defendant ignored the rule of law and potentially undermined public safety by essentially serving as judge and jury in scores of cases to enrich himself,” said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI and our partners will continue to investigate complaints of corruption by public officials and those with access to sensitive information.”
“IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to use our financial investigative skills to combat corruption and hold public officials accountable for their actions,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation’s Acting Special Agent in Charge Anthony J. Orlando. “Today’s guilty plea should serve as a reminder of what can happen when officers of the court try to profit from their position.”
With Lopez’s guilty plea, and the guilty plea of a co-defendant earlier today, 10 people charged last fall with participating in the racketeering scheme by acting a recruiters have pleaded guilty. One more defendant is scheduled to plead guilty next month, and the twelfth defendant in the case is pending trial.
The final defendant in the case – Javed Asefi, also known as “Joey,” 44, of Ladera Ranch, who in addition to the RICO count is charged with making false statements to the FBI during its investigation into the bribery scheme – is scheduled to go on trial before Judge Staton on May 2.
Prior to the 12-defendant indictment being returned by a federal grand jury last fall, three other recruiters pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges, including Rebeca Sarai Rosell, who worked at a Santa Ana bail bonds company and funneled a bribe to Lopez from a drunk driving defendant.