SANTA ANA – A former Orange County Superior Court clerk pleaded guilty on Wednesday, March 29, to fixing more than 1,000 misdemeanor criminal cases and traffic offenses in exchange for bribe money over five years.
In all, he took in $250,000 to $500,000.
Jose Lopez Jr., 36, could face up to 20 years in federal prison when sentenced on Sept. 22, but prosecutors will ask for nine years behind bars under a plea agreement signed this month, said his attorney, Brian Gurwitz.
Standing next to his attorney on Wednesday, Lopez pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge for running a network that collected bribes from defendants to tweak 1,034 cases, including 69 misdemeanor DUI cases and 160 other misdemeanor charges.
Prosecutors said Lopez employed middlemen to collect bribe money, sometimes charging up to $8,000 per case.
As a clerk with special access to the court’s computer system, Lopez, hired by the state in 2008, would tamper with cases to make it appear that defendants had paid fees or performed the required community service.
He also is accused of changing records to make it appear that second-time DUI offenders had served mandatory jail time when they had not.
The Anaheim resident turned ticket-fixing into a profitable side business; he used some of the funds to open a Mexican restaurant in Garden Grove.
Federal agents also arrested 11 of his alleged “recruiters,” who worked outside of the courthouse to spread the word that tickets in Orange County could be changed for a price.
Nine of those recruiters have since pleaded guilty, while another is scheduled to plead guilty next month, authorities said. The eleventh, Javed Asefi, 44, of Ladera Ranch is scheduled for trial on May 2.
Investigators began looking into the case in early 2015 after a courtroom employee noticed a single document was missing in a court file; the file contained Lopez’s employee ID.
Soon, other cases were inspected, prompting judges to re-open hundreds of…