A Santa Ana police officer was charged with bribery on Tuesday, Dec. 15, and has agreed to plead guilty to accepting $128,000 in exchange for keeping law enforcement away from illegally operating businesses, authorities said.
Steven Lopez, 28, of Chino faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, said Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Lopez has been an officer with the Santa Ana Police Department since April 2016.
Lopez is accused of accepting, and in some cases soliciting, bribes from the undisclosed business operator from August 2019 to last month, McEvoy said.
In at least two instances, the spokesman added, Lopez was on-duty in his police uniform when he accepted the payments. In one such instance, Lopez solicited a bribe of more than $5,000 while meeting with the individual on the top floor of the parking structure across the street from police headquarters, McEvoy said.
Lopez was expected to enter his guilty plea in court in the coming weeks, prosecutors said.
“Mr. Lopez’s decision to plead guilty was a first step in making amends for the harm that he knows he caused to law enforcement,” Brian Gurwitz, Lopez’s attorney, said in a statement. “His conduct was the result of serious personal issues that he is addressing.”
In exchange for the payments, Lopez had agreed to prevent or stop law enforcement compliance checks, to prevent law enforcement efforts to shut down the businesses, and to prevent law enforcement from performing searches and seizures, McEvoy said.
But aside from accepting the proceeds, Lopez “took no action to interfere with the enforcement activities of his agency,” Gurwitz said, adding that no other department personnel was aware of his wrongdoing.
Lopez has been placed on administrative leave and his peace officer powers were suspended, police said.
The Santa Ana Police Department was notified of the federal investigation into Lopez in October.
In November, Lopez again met with the owner while in uniform at First and Fairview streets and accepted a payment of $2,500, McEvoy said.
It was unclear if the individual who paid Lopez faced prosecution or was under investigation. Federal authorities did not identify the operator or the nature of the illegal businesses.
Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin said he was disappointed and angered by Lopez’s alleged conduct.
“The residents of Santa Ana put their trust in our officers to uphold the law and the actions of this one isolated officer has violated that trust,” the chief said in a statement.
“Let me be absolutely clear, (this charge) should in no way be a reflection of the women and men who serve the community of Santa Ana with honor and integrity each and every day,” he said.
Source: Orange County Register