By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — Saying his family will face “financial ruin” if he goes to prison, the defense attorney for convicted former Lawrence police officer P.J. Lopez is asking a federal judge to impose a three-year probation sentence.
But a federal prosecutor wants Lopez, convicted in October of a bribery scheme involving a Lawrence towing company, to serve 27 months in federal prison followed by two years probation.
Lopez, 47, is scheduled for sentencing in U.S. District Court in South Boston tomorrow.
After week-long trial, Lopez was convicted of bribery, obstruction of justice and lying to a federal agent for arranging a kickback scheme with M & W Towing of Lawrence and its owner Wilson Calixto.
A federal jury deliberated for three hours before finding Lopez, a 16-year police officer, guilty.
Fired on Oct. 21 from the Lawrence Police Department, Lopez has remained free, with some restrictions, while awaiting sentencing.
The maximum penalty, 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.
In a sentencing memorandum filed in federal court, Prosecutor William Bloomer asked that Lopez be sentenced to 27 months in jail, followed by 24 months supervised probation, a $10,000 fine and $100 special assessment fee.
Lawrence police “have a difficult, often dangerous job in a tough city. By abusing the powers entrusted in him as an officer, and by obstructing federal authorities, Lopez damaged both the reputation of the LPD and the trust residents place in it,” Bloomer wrote.
He added, “There’s no excuse for Lopez lining his own pockets by preying on Lawrence residents who happen to park in the wrong place — or even the right place — at the wrong time.”
“He was motivated by simple greed and sloth,” Bloomer wrote.
But Alex Cain of North Andover, Lopez’s defense attorney, noted Lopez had no criminal history prior to this conviction.
“If the defendant is incarcerated, it is almost certain his family will face financial ruin ... (Lopez) can’t change the past, but, with the court’s assistance, he can potentially change his future and that of his family,” Cain wrote.
Born Jan. 20, 1966, in Caguas, Puerto Rico, Lopez was one of four children. When he was an infant, Lopez’s family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. where he had a difficult childhood, raised in poverty by a mother and stepfather who “suffered from heavy narcotic dependency,” Cain wrote in his sentencing memo.
Due to the situation, Lopez “assumed the role of raising his siblings” and he also looked for “stability and safety for his life outside of his home.” This led to Lopez joining a local street gang, which he eventually severed ties with at age 13, but endured threats from as an older teen, Cain wrote.
Working to support his siblings, Lopez often missed school and ultimately obtained a GED. In 1987, he moved to Woburn, Mass. and several years later, to Lawrence, Cain said.
Today, Lopez has four children and “is heavily involved” in their upbringing. “He is strong parental influence in their lives and the primary means of financial support for his youngest child,” according to Cain.
Cain also pointed to Lopez’s “solid employment history,” which includes past jobs with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department, Chelsea Housing Authority and Newton and Lawrence Police Departments.
As he awaited sentencing, Cain said Lopez has actively sought short-term employment. And, once this matter is behind him, Lopez wants to train to become an electrician, Cain said.
“While these factors do not excuse or justify Mr. Lopez’s actions, they support the conclusion that a substantial sentence of 36 months probation is appropriate to ensure he remains with his family, protect the public, punish him, and deter others from engaging in similar behavior,” said Cain.
When he was convicted, Judge Mark Wolf told Lopez he was only allowed to leave the state to go to Salem, N.H. to do errands. His expired passport was turned over to the federal probation office in Boston and he was ordered to call the probation office on a daily basis and visit the office weekly pending sentencing.
The M & W Towing 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 for 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 as Calixto’s secretary, testified last week that after FBI agents started questioning her and others about Lopez, she created a fake receipt showing Lopez paid $4,000 for the snow plow. Colon, who was also granted immunity from prosecution, later told police she fabricated the receipt and made up the payment story.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.