EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 8, 2013

Brief defense made in Lopez corruption trial

Closing arguments, possible verdict today in city cop case

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — The defense attorney for P.J. Lopez, a Lawrence police officer on trial for bribery, obstruction of justice and lying to a federal agent, called two defense witnesses yesterday — two men who both worked at M & W towing and both described themselves as “good friends” of the 16-year police officer.

A previously filed witness list by lawyer Alex Cain of North Andover indicated Lopez planned to call several fellow police officers in his defense.

And Cain previously said Lopez’s defense against allegations he took kickbacks from M & W Towing Co. of Lawrence was that he was “acting at the direction of his superior officers.”

However, in court yesterday, jurors briefly heard from Carlos Miranda, a former M & W tow truck driver, and Alexander Cabrera, a mechanic who previously rented an auto bay at M & W.

Both denied any knowledge of reduced car sales to the officer, a $4,000 snow plow being given to Lopez or noticing increase in city ordered tows Lopez is accused of arranging with M & W owner Wilson Calixto.

Both recalled a 2002 Nissan Altima that Miranda once owned and Lopez allegedly purchased being on the lot at M & W.

Miranda also testified that Lopez installed a surveillance system at his home, never charging him for labor. In December 2012, Miranda said he worked free of charge on a remodeling project at Lopez’s home. He also gave the officer, who has been on paid administrative leave since his Sept. 25, 2012 indictment, money to fill his old tank in the cold weather.

“It’s fair to say you’d rather be on the good side of a police officer rather than the bad side,” prosecutor Andrew Lelling asked Cabrera on cross examination.

Cabrera replied “the good side.”

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for 10 a.m. today. Afterwards, Judge Mark Wolf will instruct jurors and then they will be sent to deliberate.

Lopez, 47, is charged in connection with his dealings with M & W Towing and Calixto from December 2010 to May 2011.

Last Tuesday, the day the trial opened, Calixto testified at length about his arrangement with Lopez who he said he gave reduced rates on car purchases — a Suzuki Reno, Ford Escape and Nissan Altima — and a $4,000 snow plow in exchange for sending an increased amount of tows to M & W.

M & W at that time was one of the four city towing companies that towed for the city of Lawrence on a rotating basis. Calixto made roughly $150 off every tow ordered by police.

Calixto, along with his secretary Mayra Colon, both received immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony against Lopez in the federal trial.

M & W drivers Edward Scales and Carlos Ortiz along with FBI agent Larry Travaglia also testified against Lopez.

If convicted, Lopez faces up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge, up to 10 years on the bribery charge and five years maximum for lying to a federal agent. He can also be fined up to $250,000 on each charge, according to information provided by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office.

Colon, who worked under the table at M & W, testified last week that after the FBI started questioning her and others about Lopez, she created a fake receipt showing Lopez paid $4,000 for a snow plow.

She then told Calixto to lie to FBI agents, saying Lopez had paid the $4,000 but he had forgotten he got paid because he was drunk. Calixto, when he testified, acknowledged he had a drinking problem he’s twice sought treatment for.

Colon later told FBI agents she fabricated the receipt and made up the payment story.

Calixto, in his testimony, said he repeatedly went along with Lopez because he didn’t want to get thrown off the Lawrence tow list or blackballed in city business.

M & W at that time was one of the four city towing companies that towed for the city of Lawrence on a rotating basis. Calixto made roughly $150 off every tow ordered by police.

Calixto, who once had seven tow trucks, now only has one truck he runs out of this home. He works full-time as a driver for JRM, he said.

An FBI analyst also provided a year to year comparison of tows ordered by Lopez during the time frame he was indicted in.

In January 2010, Lopez ordered 3 tows during M & W’s respective tow week that month. A year later, in January 2011, Lopez ordered 30 tows during M & W’s tow week, according to the analysis.

Also, in February 2010, Lopez ordered three tows during M & W’s tow week. A year later, during the same respective tow week, he called for 48 M & W tows, according to the FBI calculations.

However, Cain noted during cross examination the FBI analysis did not factor in weather conditions or police department staffing levels.

Lopez, who earns $60,000 annually, was put on paid administrative leave after his indictment. While he hasn’t worked in more than a year, Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, who Lopez supports politically, has allowed Lopez to stay on the city payroll.

Eight supporters were in court with Lopez yesterday, including his two children.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.