In 2015, a scandal in the Orange County court system revealed that thousands of Orange County DUI Cases had been dismissed by the court. That scandal is about to end with the sentencing this month of the person at the heart of the scandal. The details reveal why nearly a thousand Orange County DUI cases were dismissed, along with a few other misdemeanor cases.
As the Orange County LA Times Edition wrote,
Officials now say that about 1,000 DUI and misdemeanor traffic cases were “fixed” by a clerk. The clerk apparently created fake plea deals with heavily reduced penalties.
Apparently through the use of “recruiters”, word was spread that there was someone in the Orange County court system who could “fix things.” One person stated that he paid $8,000 through a middleman to the court clerk that acted as the “fixer”, according to the story in the Times. His second time DUI case was reduced and dismissed.
Considering the cost of a DUI case, I can see why many would pay 8,000 to make a second time DUI go away. But paying exorbitant fees to have a court clerk alter records not only harms the entire system, it ends up costing more for everyone.
Former Orange County Superior Court clerk Jose Lopez Jr. is the suspect that is charged with being at the center of a racketeering enterprise that engaged in bribery. Lopez, a 36-year-old resident of Anaheim, allegedly “resolved” cases by entering information into the court’s computers to make it appear that a defendant had paid required fees or had performed community service. He is at the center of the story of why nearly 70 Orange County DUI cases were dismissed.
In some cases, Jose Lopez illegally created records to indicate that a defendant had pled guilty to a lower charge and that drunk driving charges had been dismissed – avoiding the consequences of a drunk driving charge. According to the indictment, in other cases, Jose Lopez illegally entered court records that it made it appear second-time DUI offenders had served mandatory jail time when they had not. In all, he took in $250,000 to $500,000.
Along with charging him with being the reason why nearly 70 Orange County DUI cases were dismissed, others were also charged – hhe team of 11 recruiters who were charged in the indictment are:
- Ricardo Quinones, 32, of Santa Ana;
- Juan C. Rosas Santillana, 32, of Chino Hills;
- Ramon Salvador Vasquez, 27, of Santa Ana;
- Manuel Galindo Jr., 26, of Santa Ana;
- Gibram Rene Lopez, also known as “Ivan,” 26, of Anaheim;
- Agustin Sanchez Jr., 32, of Santa Ana;
- Luis Alberto Flores Guillen, also known as “Bills,” 26, of Santa Ana;
- Oscar Centeno, also known as “Mosquito,” 26, of Santa Ana;
- Javed Asefi, also known as “Joey,” 43, of Ladera Ranch;
- Jeff Reynes Fernandez, also known as “Lean,” 24, of Fullerton; and
- Jesus Saldana, 28, of Garden Grove.
The clerk, Jose Lopez Jr., is age 36. He could face up to 20 years in federal prison when sentenced on Sept. 22, but prosecutors will ask for nine years behind bars under a plea agreement signed this month.
Lopez already pled guilty to a federal racketeering charge for running a network that collected bribes from defendants to alter records in 1,034 cases, including 69 misdemeanor DUI cases and 160 other misdemeanor charges. That is why nearly 70 Orange County DUI cases were dismissed, among all the other cases he handled.
Prosecutors said Lopez employed middlemen to collect bribe money, charging up to $8,000 per case.
As a clerk with special access to the court’s computer system, Lopez, hired by the state in 2008, would tamper with cases to make it appear that defendants had paid fees, performed the required community service, or had served mandatory jail time when they had not.
Lopez is an Anaheim resident who turned ticket-fixing into a profitable side business to his court salary; he used some of the funds to open a Mexican restaurant in Garden Grove, and finance trips to Las Vegas and international travel.
Orange County Superior Court has stated that they refined its auditing practices and redesigned its software to prevent future problems. Although they now know why nearly 70 Orange County DUI cases were dismissed, they have taken steps to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.