By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — Federal prosecutors now want a second towing company owner to testify in the bribery and obstruction of justice trial of Lawrence police Officer P.J. Lopez.
Lopez, 47, is accused of making arrangements with M&W Towing of Lawrence to have cars he ticketed towed in exchange for a stream of benefits, including a $4,000 snow plow.
But prosecutors have asked a judge to allow Robert Sheehan, the owner of Sheehan’s Towing in Methuen and Lawrence, to testify about Lopez’s interest in an abandoned Land Rover Sheehan’s towed and an increase in business, at Lopez’s direction, that occurred from December 2010 until June 2011.
Once Sheehan sold the Land Rover to a New Hampshire company that specializes in the sale of foreign, high-end vehicles, Sheehan said the number of tows Lopez directed to his company “began to diminish,” according to court papers.
“... The jury could rationally infer that the defendant was attempting to gain favor from Sheehan in the form of a discounted price on the Land Rover in exchange for a sharp increase in the number of tows ordered for Sheehan’s company,” Assistant U.S. Attorney William Bloomer wrote in a motion filed on May 27.
Lopez’s trial was originally scheduled to start June 10 but was postponed until September. A Lawrence resident and city police officer since 1997, Lopez was indicted on Sept. 25, 2012, in connection with his dealings with M & W and owner Wilson Calixto. He is charged with bribery, lying to a federal agent and obstruction of justice.
According to court papers, from December 2010 to May 2011, Lopez ordered an increase number of tows by M&W “in exchange for a free snow plow and discount on the sale prices of abandoned vehicles.”
At the same time, Lopez “also ordered a sharp increase in the number of vehicle tows by Sheehan’s Towing,” Bloomer wrote.
Bloomer added “Sheehan is expected to testify that the spike in tows by Lopez for his company occurred after Sheehan’s Towing towed a Land Rover and Lopez expressed an interest in purchasing this high-end vehicle.” Prior to seeing the Land Rover, Lopez did not order the towing of many vehicles by Sheehan’s, according to court papers.
Sheehan’s, at that time, was one of four companies that towed vehicles for the city of Lawrence on a rotating basis. Sheehan refused to comment for this story.
“The time frame of the increase of tows by Lopez for Sheehan’s Towing corresponds precisely with the time frame in which Lopez had an agreement with Calixto to acquire cars and a snow plow in exchange for an increase in tow business for M&W Towing,” Bloomer wrote.
Sheehan and other witness are also expected to testify that Lopez asked them to remove batteries from their cell phones after he was questioned by the FBI about the towing arrangements.
“Sheehan will testify that he was surprised by the defendant’s behavior and tried to get away from Lopez as fast as possible,” according to the motion.
Lopez allegedly removed the battery from Calixto’s phone before asking him “what he had told the FBI and warning Calixto that he was in trouble too,” Bloomer wrote.
Neither Calixto nor Sheehan were charged by authorities.
Alex Cain, Lopez’s defense attorney, declined comment for this article. Cain previously said Lopez’s defense will be “he was following the instructions of his superiors.”
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, who earns $60,000, was immediately placed on paid administrative leave following his indictment. A political supporter of Mayor William Lantigua, Lopez remains on the city payroll.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.