SANTA ANA (CNS) - A Santa Ana police officer agreed today to plead guilty to accepting $128,000 in bribes from a crime figure who was seeking to thwart law enforcement activities against his illegally operating businesses, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced.
Steven Lopez, 28, of Chino, is charged with bribery in a single-count information filed in United States District Court on the same day as the plea agreement was filed, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
He is expected to formally enter his plea in the coming weeks, and faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, prosecutors said. His initial court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 1.
“Mr. Lopez's decision to plead guilty was a first step in making amends for the harm that he knows he caused to law enforcement,'' Lopez's attorney, Brian Gurwitz, told City News Service.
“His conduct was the result of serious personal issues that he is addressing,'' Gurwitz said. “He wants the public to know that no other member of the Santa Ana Police Department was aware of his wrongdoing. Despite his acceptance of the proceeds, he took no action to interfere with the enforcement activities of his agency.''
Between August and last month, Lopez received about $128,000 in bribes from an individual -- named in court documents as “Co-Schemer 1'' – who was attempting to influence Lopez in the performance of his official duties as a police officer, the plea agreement states.
“Lopez admitted that he agreed to prevent or stop law enforcement compliance checks at businesses illegally operating under Co-Schemer 1's control, law enforcement efforts to shut down those businesses, and law enforcement searches and seizures at those illegally operated businesses,'' according to a U.S. Attorney's Office statement.
In at least two instances cited in court papers, Lopez was on duty and in uniform when he accepted bribe payments from Co-Schemer 1, including late in the evening of Sept. 14, 2019, when they met on the top floor of a parking structure located directly across the street from SAPD headquarters, according to the plea agreement.
The case was investigated by the FBI, IRS Criminal Investigation unit, United States Postal Inspection Service and California Department of Justice.
The Santa Ana Police Department reported that it was first notified in October and “is fully cooperating with the FBI investigation and will continue to provide any assistance necessary to ensure that justice is served.'' The department has also launched an Internal Affairs investigation into Lopez's alleged actions.
Lopez, who joined the force in April 2016, “is currently assigned to his residence on administrative leave, and his peace officer powers have been suspended, pending the outcome of both investigations,'' according to the SAPD.
“The allegations against this officer tear at the core of what our industry represents and erodes the public trust we work so hard to uphold and maintain. I am thoroughly disappointed and angered by the alleged conduct of this indictment and it is not representative of our department,'' said Chief David Valentin.
“The residents of Santa Ana put their trust in our officers to uphold the law and the actions of this one isolated officer has violated that trust,'' he said. “Let me be absolutely clear, these charges should in no way be a reflection of the women and men who serve the community of Santa Ana with honor and integrity each and every day. I have zero tolerance for an officer who betrays their oath to protect and serve.''
Photo: Getty Images