By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — Fired city police officer P.J. Lopez started serving his 18-month sentence at a federal prison in Kentucky yesterday.
Lopez, 47, was convicted last fall in a bribery scheme involving M & W tow company of Lawrence. He was sentenced on Jan. 14 to 18 months in jail and was ordered to report to a federal prison on Feb. 24 to start serving his sentence.
Alex Cain, Lopez’s defense attorney, said Lopez was flown to Kentucky early yesterday morning to start serving his sentence. Meanwhile, Cain said he has appealed the conviction in the case and asked for fines incurred in the matter to be reduced due to Lopez’s financial problems, he said.
“We put in a request to the court to waive fees because he’s broke,” Cain said.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf sentenced Lopez to 18 months in federal prison, followed by three years probation and a $10,000 fine.
The father of four and 16-year police officer was found guilty of arranging a kickback scheme with M & W and its owner Wilson Calixto. The scheme involved Lopez purchasing several vehicles at reduced rates and receiving a $4,000 snow plow in exchange for sending an increase in police-ordered tows to M & W from December 2010 to January 2011.
M & W at that time was one of four city companies that towed for the city of Lawrence on a rotating basis. Calixto, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony against Lopez, said he made roughly $150 for every tow ordered by police.
Also, Mayra Colon, who worked under the table at M & W, testified that after the FBI started questioning her and others about Lopez, she created a fake receipt showing Lopez paid $4,000 for the snow plow. She was later granted immunity from prosecution and told police she fabricated the receipt and made up the payment story.
During the weeklong trial last October, the jury deliberated for three hours before finding Lopez guilty of bribery, obstruction of justice and lying to a federal agent.
Prosecutors wanted Lopez to serve 27 months in prison followed by two years probation. Cain argued a prison sentence would bring financial ruin to Lopez’s family and asked Wolf to impose three years probation.
The maximum penalties, under federal law, is 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge, 10 years on the bribery charge and five years for lying to a federal agent. Each charge carried maximum penalties of $250,000 each.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.