Former Clerk in Orange County Superior Court Sentenced to Over 11 Years in Federal Prison for Racketeering Offense Stemming from Bribery Scheme to ‘Fix’ Criminal Cases and Traffic Charges
SANTA ANA, California – A former clerk of the Orange County Superior Court was sentenced today to 135 months in federal prison for orchestrating a scheme in which he was paid approximately $420,000 dollars in bribes to “fix” criminal cases and traffic offenses on terms favorable to hundreds of defendants without the knowledge of prosecutors or judges.
Jose Lopez Jr., 36, of Anaheim, was sentenced this morning after pleading guilty in March to one count of conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
Lopez was sentenced by United States District Judge Josephine L. Staton, who said Lopez created, led and profited from the scheme.
“This [criminal conduct] was not an aberration from his character – this was his character,” the judge said.
Lopez admitted that he was at the center of a scheme in which bribes as high as $8,000 were paid to co-conspirators to fraudulently resolve cases for hundreds of defendants. 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.
“People who were facing their second drunk driving offense were able to bribe their way out of mandatory jail sentences,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “Mr. Lopez led a long-running scheme that brought him well over $400,000 and caused untold damage to the operations and reputation of the criminal justice system in Orange County.”
According to court documents, 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.
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 the bribes and falsifying court records, Lopez forged the signature of a prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
The conspiracy ended in the spring of 2015 when the Orange County Superior Court learned about the misconduct and took steps to reopen the cases that Lopez tampered with.
“Because of [Lopez]’s corrupt actions, the Orange County Superior Court audited each and every case that [Lopez] handled,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court. “The state court recalled the cases where fraud was found to restore the integrity of its records.” According to a victim impact statement submitted by the Orange County Superior Court, Lopez’s corruption scheme cost the Orange County Superior Court about $170,000 to clean up.
Lopez used the money he received as part of the scheme to pay for, among other things, international vacations, trips to Las Vegas and the opening of a restaurant in Garden Grove.
“Defendant Lopez was entrusted with protecting the interests of justice but instead made a lucrative income operating an underground business for clients seeking a pass on criminal activity,” said Danny Kennedy, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The successful investigation and prosecution of Mr. Lopez and his many co-conspirators is a result of a collaborative effort by multiple agencies and should serve as a warning to public officials who use their access to benefit personally.”
“Mr. Lopez used his public position of trust to enrich himself and undermined public safety,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation’s Acting Special Agent in Charge Aimee Schabilion. “IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to use our financial investigative expertise to combat public corruption and hold officers of the court accountable for their actions.”
Lopez is one of a dozen defendants who have been convicted of participating in the racketeering conspiracy. The other 10 defendants who have pleaded guilty before Judge Staton are:
Ricardo Quinones, 33, of Santa Ana, who was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison;
Juan C. Rosas Santillana, 33, of Chino Hills, who is scheduled to be sentenced on October 13;
Ramon Salvador Vasquez, 28, of Santa Ana, who was sentenced to two years in prison;
Manuel Galindo Jr., 27, of Santa Ana, who was sentenced to one year and one day in prison;
Gibram Rene Lopez, also known as “Ivan,” 27, of Anaheim, who was also sentenced today to 15 months in prison;
Agustin Sanchez Jr., 33, of Santa Ana, who was sentenced to one year and one day in prison;
Luis Alberto Flores Guillen, also known as “Bills,” 27, of Santa Ana, who was sentenced last Friday to 10 months (five months in jail and five months of home confinement);
Oscar Centeno, also known as “Mosquito,” 27, of Santa Ana, who is scheduled to be sentenced on November 17;
Jeff Reynes Fernandez, also known as “Lean,” 25, of Fullerton, who was sentenced last Friday to one year and one day in prison ; and
Jesus Saldana, 29, of Garden Grove, who was sentenced to 10 months (five months in jail and five months of home confinement).
The twelfth defendant, Javed Asefi, also known as “Joey,” 44, of Ladera Ranch, was found guilty by a federal jury earlier this month and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 8.
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 so a second-time drunk driving offender could avoid serving his mandatory 60-day jail sentence.
This case was investigated by special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS Criminal Investigation.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Vib Mittal of the Santa Ana Branch Office.