This article originally appeared at Anti-Media.
Orange County, CA — On Wednesday, a former county clerk in southern California plead guilty to running a bribery scheme that forged case results in exchange for money — a scheme that netted him over a quarter of a million dollars in five years.
From a Los Angeles Times article published on Thursday:
“Anaheim resident Juan Lopez, Jr., 36, admitted in a plea deal last week that from as early as 2010 until March 2015, he used his court computer system access to write fraudulent outcomes for more than 1,000 cases, including 69 misdemeanor driving under the influence cases and hundreds of traffic-related violations.”
Lopez, it seems, had a network of middlemen outside the courtroom who spread the word that case results could be bought. Defendants paid one of Lopez’s fixers, then the fixer brought the cash to the boss.
Using text taken from court documents, a Los Angeles Times article from September 2016 painted a picture of what a typical exchange between a defendant and a middleman looked like.
Fixer: “I have a buddy. I’ve taken care of 15+ speeding tickets now. Super simple and way better than paying the court.”
Defendant: “I just give you the money and the ticket goes away?”
Fixer: “A few days after you give me the money, it’s like you never got the ticket.”
That same Los Angeles Times article noted that “with a few easy keystrokes,” Lopez could even make it “seem that people had served jail time” when they hadn’t.
With the money Lopez reaped from the scheme, authorities say he went on vacations, took trips to Las Vegas, and even opened a restaurant in Garden Grove, California.
“This is the most widespread scandal to hit Orange County’s legal system since the sheriff got sent to prison,” defense attorney Virginia Landry said after Lopez’s initial arraignment last year, referring to a sheriff who went down in a corruption case back in 2009. “This is a huge number of cases. It went on for such a long time under the noses of people working in the court.”
United States Attorney Eileen Decker had a few words to say at the time, as well. According to a press release:
“This defendant allegedly assumed the role of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys to line his pockets in a staggering abuse of his position. Very simply, he compromised the entire justice system in Orange County.”
And all this was accomplished by what authorities called “a low-level paper pusher who rarely saw the inside of a courtroom.”
Lopez is scheduled to be sentenced on September 22, when he’ll face a potential 20-year sentence.
Perhaps more than anything else, this case demonstrates how a government employee’s level of power within the system doesn’t necessarily affect their ability to game it.
Just yesterday, Anti-Media reported on the case of a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, Tara Lenich — once a high-ranking deputy chief within the Violent Criminal Enterprises Bureau — who now faces federal charges for using government resources to spy on a love interest.
She wasn’t out for money. She was simply jealous and used her access to the surveillance state to spy on her own colleagues.
Lopez was just a clerk, and he made off with over a quarter of a million dollars. Lenich was a powerful attorney and was able to secretly target individuals of her choosing for surveillance. Both gamed the system in different ways and for different reasons. And both were successful — to a point.
Such is possible, it seems, within the endless gaps and shadows of bureaucracy.