A Santa Ana police officer pleaded guilty Wednesday to accepting $128,000 in bribes from a crime figure who was seeking to thwart law enforcement activities against his illegally operating businesses.
Steven Lopez, 28, of Chino, pleaded to a single count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, a felony carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II set sentencing for May 3.
Between last August and November, Lopez received about $128,000 in bribes from an individual — named in court documents as “Co-Schemer 1” — who was attempting to influence Lopez in the performance of his official duties as a police officer.
“Lopez admitted that he agreed to prevent or stop law enforcement compliance checks at businesses illegally operating under Co-Schemer 1’s control, law enforcement efforts to shut down those businesses, and law enforcement searches and seizures at those illegally operated businesses,” according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office statement.
In at least two instances cited in court papers, Lopez was on duty and in uniform when he accepted bribe payments from Co-Schemer 1, including late in the evening of Sept. 14, 2019, when they met on the top floor of a parking structure located directly across the street from Santa Ana Police Department headquarters.
The SAPD reported in December that it was first notified two months earlier and cooperated with the FBI investigation and provided any assistance necessary “to ensure that justice is served.” The department said an Internal Affairs investigation was opened into Lopez’s actions.
Lopez joined the force in April 2016 and was placed on administrative leave when he was charged two months ago.
“The allegations against this officer tear at the core of what our industry represents and erodes the public trust we work so hard to uphold and maintain. I am thoroughly disappointed and angered by the alleged conduct of this indictment and it is not representative of our department,” Chief David Valentin said at the time the charges were announced.
“The residents of Santa Ana put their trust in our officers to uphold the law and the actions of this one isolated officer has violated that trust,” he said. “Let me be absolutely clear, these charges should in no way be a reflection of the women and men who serve the community of Santa Ana with honor and integrity each and every day. I have zero tolerance for an officer who betrays their oath to protect and serve.”