Downtown Los Angeles. Photographer: Susan Goldman. Bloomberg News.
Key Takeaways

• Court clerk charged with taking about $420,000 in bribes to “fix” criminal cases

• Head of scheme pleaded guilty to one count of violating RICO

Downtown Los Angeles. Photographer: Susan Goldman. Bloomberg News.

Ex-Court Clerk Gets More Than 11 Years for Fixing Cases

By David McAfee, Bloomberg BNA

A former Orange County Superior Court clerk was sentenced Sept. 22 to more than 11 years in federal prison for taking about $420,000 in exchange for dismissed charges and other legal favors.

Jose Lopez Jr., from Anaheim, Calif., pleaded guilty in March to one count of conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. He was arrested in September 2016 along with nine others accused of being a part of the scheme.

Brian N. Gurwitz, of the Law Office of Brian Gurwitz APC in Tustin, Calif., counsel to Lopez, said he disagrees with the sentence but respects it.

“Judges often impose particularly harsh sentences in high-profile public corruption cases,” Gurwitz told Bloomberg BNA in a Sept. 24 email. “Judges are part of the law enforcement system, and they can take particular offense at a breach of trust committed by defendants who once part of that system.”

Gurwitz added that no decision on an appeal has been made.

Judge Josephine L. Staton, of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, sentenced Lopez to 135 months in prison, and identified him as the head of the plot.

“People who were facing their second drunk driving offense were able to bribe their way out of mandatory jail sentences,” Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown said in a written statement.

“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.”

A Dozen Defendants

Prosecutors say Lopez is one of 12 defendants to be convicted in the racketeering scheme. Most recently a federal jury return four guilty verdicts against the final defendant, Javed Asefi, who is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 8.

Another defendant, Gibram Rene Lopez, pleaded guilty in the case. Gibram Lopez was sentenced Sept. 22 to one year and one day in prison.

The co-conspirators were “middlemen” who recruited people who wanted to bribe Jose Lopez to get their cases dropped, according to the prosecution.

“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,” Danny Kennedy, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said in the statement.

“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.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Santa Ana, Calif., prosecuted the case.

The case is:  United States v. Lopez, C.D. Cal., No. 8:16-cr-00113, sentencing9/22/17

To contact the reporter on this story: David McAfee in Los Angeles at dMcAfee@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bna.com

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