Lawrence police officer convicted in tow company bribery scheme
A Lawrence police officer, a 15-year veteran, was convicted in federal court Tuesday of bribery and obstruction of justice for soliciting a bribe from a towing company in exchange for sending business the company’s way.
Pedro Jose Lopez, 47, sat stoically as the verdict of guilty was announced three times. His family members sat crying in the front row.
Lopez is slated to be sentenced on Jan. 14, and he faces close to three years under federal sentencing guidelines. He was convicted of bribery, obstruction of justice, and lying to a federal agent.
“This is about a police officer who used his position for his gain, then lied about it to the FBI,” said Assistant US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling.
Lopez was indicted just over a year ago, accused of soliciting a free snow plow -- valued at $4,000 -- from a company, M & W Towing Co., of Lawrence, in exchange for sending tow jobs to the company. He later lied about it to an FBI agent, and produced a bogus receipt.
Prosecutors alleged he received other gifts from the company as he continued to send more business to M & W Towing.
Lopez was placed on leave after his arrest.
His lawyer, Alexander R. Cain, had argued that the case was based on the testimony of questionable witnesses, including at least one who received immunity for her cooperation. He also said that Lopez was doing his job by ordering the towing of illegally parked cars.
“What you did hear was Mr. Lopez was doing his job,” Cain said. “What you did hear was Mr. Lopez was going into these areas and removing vehicles that were illegally parked there.”
He added, “With all due respect, the government has failed to meet its burden.”
Lelling had argued, however, that it was Lopez himself who lied to the FBI agent, “because the alternative was they were going to find out he has been in this long-term bribery scheme with M & W Towing.”
He said a review of one week in January 2011 showed that Lopez ordered 48 cars towed, while the average police officer made such an order only four times.
“I guess the other guys didn’t get the message about the weather, or the kickbacks,” Lelling said.
Lopez was released on bail until his sentencing hearing.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com.