By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — The FBI was asking questions about bribery and corruption and Mayra Colon said she wanted to help her friend police officer P.J. Lopez, who was at the center of the investigation.
So Colon, secretary at M & W Towing of Lawrence, decided to make a phony receipt that showed Lopez paid $4,000 for a snow plow he received from the company. She told her boss he should say Lopez paid him the $4,000 for the plow but he forgot he got paid because he was drunk.
But yesterday, as a witness in federal court in Lopez’s bribery trial, Colon admitted to a jury that she doctored the receipt, made up the story about the $4,000 being paid and lied to FBI agents.
“Your intent was to fool FBI agents into believing this was a valid document?” said Alex Cain of North Andover, Lopez’s defense attorney, as he asked Colon about the fake receipt.
“Yes,” said Colon, who was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony against Lopez.
“Basically, what you did is lied to a federal agent?” Cain asked.
“Yes,” said Colon, a single mother who worked under the table at M & W Towing.
Colon, 37, who collects Social Security checks for a back disability, was the second witness granted immunity from prosecution that testified against Lopez at federal court on Boston.
On Monday, M & W Towing owner Wilson Calixto, 46, testified at length about his arrangement with Lopez, a police officer since 1997. Lopez got reduced rates on cars and the $4,000 snow plow in exchange for sending towing joibs to M & W.
Indicted on Sept. 25, 2012, Lopez, 47, is charged with bribery, lying to a federal agent and obstruction of justice in connection with his dealings with M & W Towing and Calixto from December 2010 to May 2011.
Calixto said he 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 on a rotating basis. Calixto made roughly $150 off every tow ordered by police.
Also testifying yesterday was an FBI analyst, who provided a yearly comparison of tows ordered by Lopez during the time frame he was indicted in.
In January 2010, Lopez ordered three 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, analyst Melissa Collier said.
Also, in February 2010, Lopez ordered three tows during M & W’s tow week. A year, during the same respective tow week, he called for 48 M & W tows, according to Collier’s calculations.
Cain, however, questioned Collier on whether weather conditions or staffing levels were factored in her accounting. The analyst said they were not.
Colon, 37, said she worked at M & W in 2006. She was paid $150 per week for part-time work and $300 on police tow weeks, which were busier. She and Lopez’s parents are from the same place in Puerto Rico. She said they’ve been friends for 15 years and he’s served as mentor to her son.
In her testimony, Colon said “she couldn’t remember the exact words” but that Lopez wanted to buy cars at reduced rates from M & W in exchange for sending more tow business their way.
Colon said she encouraged Calixto to go along with Lopez. Federal prosecutor William Bloomer asked her why.
“So he can make the money,” Colon said.
She also recalled Calixto and Lopez looking online at plows, which M & W paid $4,000 to purchase for Lopez.
Colon said Lopez never paid the towing company for the plow.
When the FBI started questioning her and other M & W employees about the dealings with Lopez, Colon said she became very emotional and fearful for Lopez.
“He could lose everything,” she said. “I was concerned for him and I was concerned for the company.”
In her testimony, Colon said she fabricated the plow receipt and told Calixto, who had a drinking problem, that he should say Lopez paid him for the plow but he didn’t remember due to drunkenness.
“I explained to him we needed to help and that I was going to say PJ gave me the $4,000 and I gave it to Wilson but he was too drunk to remember,” Colon tesitifed.
Calixto, however, told her “it was not a good idea,” she said.
Colon told this story to the FBI on two occasions in July 2011.
But four months later in November, after a discussion with Calixto, Colon said she called the FBI and told them she was lying about the receipt.
Under cross examination by Cain, Colon admitted she received cash payments from B & W that she never reported to the IRS. She also said she never spoke to Lopez about generating the phony plow receipt before she did it.
Now unemployed, Colon said she receives a $782 monthly disability check.
Lopez, who earns $60,000 annually, has been on paid administrative since his indictment.
It’s still unclear if Lopez will testify.take the stand in his own defense.
The trial is expected to resume this morning.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.