A former Orange County Superior Court clerk is scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday afternoon to orchestrating a bribery scheme to fix criminal and traffic cases over a five-year period, netting him more than $250,000, federal prosecutors said.
Jose Lopez Jr., 36, of Anaheim, will join all but one of multiple co- defendants in pleading guilty or signaling an intention to admit wrongdoing. Co- defendant Luis Alberto Flores Guillen, 26, of Santa Ana, is also expected to plead guilty Wednesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Lopez’s plea agreement, which was filed on March 21, exposes him to a maximum of 20 years in federal prison, but federal prosecutors have agreed not to seek more than nine years behind bars, according to defense attorney Brian Gurwitz. U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton is not bound by that agreement, however.
Lopez agreed in the plea deal that he resolved 1,034 cases, including 69 misdemeanor driving under the influence cases, 160 other misdemeanor cases and 805 traffic-related infractions. He had nine middlemen helping with the conspiracy, according to his plea agreement.
Lopez had access to computer records to make it appear as if a case was resolved favorable to any defendant who paid him a bribe, according to the plea agreement. The middlemen and others would receive a printed sheet showing the case was resolved as promised, prosecutors said.
“Defendant used the funds from the scheme to pay for, among other things, international vacations, trips to Las Vegas, and the opening of a restaurant in Garden Grove,” according to the plea document. “During the conspiracy, defendant received hundreds of bribes, totaling over $250,000 (but less than $550,000) in payments, to fraudulently resolve matters pending before the (Orange County Superior Court).”
Lopez opened his Mexican restaurant in Garden Grove in early 2015 with his ill-gotten gains, according to the plea deal.
Lopez also admitted he tried to obstruct the investigation by instructing co-defendant Gibram Rene Lopez to tell the other defendants to lie to investigators. He also asked his relatives to say they invested in his restaurant when they hadn’t contributed at all to its opening, according to court papers.
The investigation came to light nearly two years ago when attorneys were summoned to the West Justice Center in Westminster for hearings to set court records straight. Orange County Superior Court officials said a clerk noticed “irregularities” in a case, prompting her to report the issue to a supervisor, who did more research.
“Within a day or two, a report was run and we became aware of a pattern where it appeared that a large number of cases had irregular minutes, all of which appeared to be entered by a lone employee,” Orange County Superior Court officials said in a statement released in June 2015.
Hundreds of cases were recalled to determine if anything improper had been done.
Lopez accepted bribes as high as $8,000 to fix criminal cases, according to the 38-count federal indictment. Hundreds of defendants got charges dismissed, fees reduced or avoided jail time in DUI cases in exchange for payoffs to the clerk or other “middlemen,” the indictment alleges.
Some signatures of prosecutors were forged as part of the scheme.
Most of Lopez’s “team of recruiters” for bribes are awaiting sentencing.
Those who have pleaded guilty are:
— Ricardo Quinnones, 32, of Santa Ana;
— Ramon Salvador Vasquez, 27, of Santa Ana;
— Gibram Rene Lopez, 26, of Anaheim;
— Agustin Sanchez Jr., 32, of Santa Ana;
— Oscar Centeno, 26, of Santa Ana;
— Jeff Reynes Fernandez, 24, of Fullerton; and
–Jesus Saldana, 28, of Garden Grove.
Juan C. Rosas Santillana, 32, of Chino Hills; is expected to plead guilty next month, according to Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Co-defendant, Javed Asefi, 43, of Ladera Ranch, is awaiting trial. His attorney recently filed a motion to have racketeering charges dismissed, but Staton denied the motion.
— City News Service
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