Former Orange County Superior Court clerk, Juan Lopez Jr., 36, pleaded guilty on March 29 to taking between a quarter to a half of a million dollars while head of a bribery scheme forging the results of criminal violations.
From 2010 to March of 2015, Lopez used his access to the court computer system to write fraudulent outcomes for more than 1,000 cases, according to prosecutors. Among these cases were hundreds of traffic-related violations, 160 misdemeanor charges, and 69 driving under the influence cases. He charged $8,000 for such DUI cases, the most expensive to fix.
Lopez received money from nine middlemen to show a favorable result for the person charged, when cases were actually never ruled on. These middlemen would spread the word that tickets in Orange Country could be changed for a price. Lopez would alter files to make it seem like plea deals are struck, decisions were reversed, order fines to other drivers, and appear as if jail sentences had been served. The scheme “caused havoc in the Orange County Superior Court” according to U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown.
“The defendant … potentially undermined public safety by essentially serving as judge and jury in scores of cases to enrich himself,” said assistant director in charge of FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, Deirdre Fike.
His bribery scheme ended in 2015 when O.C. Superior Court officials began to suspect case tampering had occurred. Investigators came in after a courtroom employee noticed a single missing document from a court file, which contained Lopez’s employee ID. Lopez would be facing 20 years in federal prison, but according to defense attorney Brian Gurwitz, prosecutors have agreed to consider only nine years. However, the U.S. district judge, Judge Josephine Station, is not obligated to stick to those terms at the sentencing on Sept. 22.
Lopez is one of 13 co-defendants under indictment. Ten others have pleaded guilty, one more is scheduled to plea in April, and one is scheduled for trial.