SANTA ANA, Calif. — A former Orange County Superior Court clerk and nine others were arrested Wednesday on charges related to a bribery scheme in which more than 1,000 cases were illegally fixed without knowledge of prosecutors or judges, federal prosecutors said.
Authorities expected to have two additional defendants in custody soon, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. All were named in a 38-count indictment.
The ex-clerk, Jose Lopez Jr., was at the center of a sophisticated bribery scheme, according to prosecutors. He is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years to illegally resolve tickets for people charged with drunken driving or other traffic offenses. The scam ended in 2015 when the court learned of the misconduct.
People who paid the bribes were solicited directly by Lopez, 38, or by the other defendants, who acted as recruiters. Prosecutors said Lopez charged up to $8,000 per case.
As a result, hundreds of defendants had charges dismissed, saw fees reduced, or avoided jail time, prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said the scam “compromised the entire justice system” in Orange County.
“Some of these cases involved drunk driving, which is a very serious charge and the individuals involved in those cases were not held accountable,” she said in a statement.
Lopez would “resolve” cases by changing information in the court’s computers to make it appear that a defendant had paid fees or performed the required community service and, in some cases, he forged prosecutor signatures.
In some drunk-driving cases, he falsified records to indicate that a defendant had pleaded guilty to reckless driving, thereby allowing the person to avoid a drunk-driving charge, officials said. He also allegedly changed records to make it appear that second-time DUI offenders had served mandatory jail time when they had not.
Lopez is accused of illegally resolving approximately 1,034 cases — including 69 misdemeanor DUI cases, 160 other misdemeanor cases and other 805 traffic cases.
The court corrected all the inaccurate records and the cases were re-set by a judge and proceeded normally, a court statement said.
The court also redesigned software, refined auditing practices and added new safeguards to help prevent future schemes, according to the statement.