EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 10, 2013

Officer's bribery trial begins next month

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — LAWRENCE — Charged with bribery, lying to a federal agent and obstruction of justice, Lawrence police Officer P.J. Lopez is scheduled to go on trial in Boston on June 10.

Lopez, 47, is accused of making arrangements with M & W Towing to have cars he ticketed towed in exchange for a stream of benefits, including a $4,000 snow plow.

However, Lopez’s defense will be “he was following the instructions of his superiors,” said Alex Cain, Lopez’s defense lawyer.

Up to a dozen police officers, including numerous superior officers, are expected to be called to testify during the two-week trial, which will be held at the U.S. District Court in South Boston before Judge Mark L. Wolf.

Lopez, a Lawrence resident and city police officer since 1997, was indicted Sept. 25, 2012 in connection with his alleged dealings with M & W Towing.

By June 3, both Cain and the federal prosecutor have to file lists of all exhibits to be presented and witnesses to be called during the trial. On June 6, a final pretrial hearing is scheduled and if Lopez decides to change his plea or accept any kind of plea deal, he would have to do so either before or at that time, according to court records.

Cain declined to comment on the existence of any potential plea offer or arrangement.

If convicted, Lopez faces up to 20 years in federal prison for the obstruction of justice charge, 10 years for bribery and five years for the false statement offense. There is also the potential for up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.

Lopez is accused of lying to a federal agent, saying he reimbursed the tow company in cash for the plow and produced a bogus receipt for it, according to the indictment.

The city of Lawrence does business with four towing companies and each company is assigned a week on a rotating basis to tow cars for the police department. According to the indictment, Lopez would allegedly skirt the rotation by calling the unnamed company directly in exchange for “benefits,” according to the indictment.

The federal charges against Lopez were handed down 14 months after FBI agents raided Lopez’s home, walking out with a plastic container for files and several bags labeled as evidence.

Lopez started his police career in the city of Newton in January 1994. He requested and received a lateral transfer and became a permanent full-time police officer in Lawrence three years later.

Lopez was indicted through a joint investigation by Lawrence police, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Lopez earns roughly $60,000 and was placed on paid administrative leave in September.

Although he was indicted and has not worked at the police department, Lopez, a political supporter of Mayor William Lantigua, remains on the city payroll.

As the city’s appointing authority, Lantigua must decide to shut down Lopez’s pay.

Two other police officers facing criminal charges are also still being paid by the city while being barred from working.

Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager, was indicted Sept. 11, 2012 by the Essex County Grand Jury on charges of bribery, extortion and conspiracy. Bonilla earns $140,000.

Carlos Gonzalez, who earns $60,000 per year, is being held in a Florida jail awaiting trial on a child rape charge.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.