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Prosecutors want 27-month sentence for ex-Lawrence officer

Federal prosecutors have called for a former Lawrence police officer to be sentenced to more than two years in prison after he was convicted on charges related to soliciting gifts from a towing company in exchange for sending it business.

The former officer, Pedro Jose Lopez, 47, lied to the FBI when he was accused of the scheme and asked others to do the same.

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“Pedro Jose Lopez exploited his position of public trust as a police officer with the Lawrence Police Department, by engaging in a ticketing-and-towing scheme for his personal benefit,” prosecutors said in a court filing Friday.

Lopez, a 15-year veteran, was found guilty by a jury after his trial in October on charges of bribery and obstruction of justice. He is slated to be sentenced Jan. 14, and prosecutors asked that he serve 27 months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, and that he pay a $10,000 fine.

His lawyer, Alexander R. Cain, has not yet submitted a recommendation to the court.

“[Lawrence police] officers have a difficult, often dangerous, job in a tough city,” the prosecutors said in a court filing. “By abusing the powers entrusted to him as an officer and by obstructing federal authorities, Lopez damaged both the reputation of the LPD and the trust Lawrence residents place in it.”

Lopez’s indictment in September 2012 was one of several indictments of members of outgoing Mayor William Lantigua’s administration. Lantigua was defeated in an election in the fall after one term in office.

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The mayor’s former deputy police chief, Melix Bonilla, and his former chief of staff, Leonard Degnan, face charges of extortion and conspiracy in Salem Superior Court.

Degnan allegedly used his position to pressure the city’s waste contractor to donate a garbage truck to a remote city in the Dominican Republic, Lantigua’s native country. Bonilla, who was Lantigua’s 2009 campaign manager, allegedly falsely transferred ownership of 13 Police Department motor vehicles to an auto dealer with close ties to Lantigua.

The two have pleaded not guilty, and their cases are pending.

Lantigua has not been charged with any crimes, though Attorney General Martha Coakley sued him for campaign finance irregularities in August.

Lopez, who was placed on leave after his arrest in 2012, was convicted of soliciting a free snowplow, valued at $4,000, from M&W Towing Co. of Lawrence, in exchange for sending tow jobs to the company. He later lied about it to an FBI agent and produced a bogus receipt. Prosecutors said he received other gifts from M&W Towing as he continued to send business to the company.

His lawyer had argued that the case was built on the testimony of questionable witnesses, including one who received immunity for her cooperation. Cain said Lopez was merely doing his job enforcing parking regulations.

But prosecutors submitted evidence showing that during one week in January 2011, Lopez ordered 48 cars towed, while the average police officer made such an order only four times.

Lopez has been free pending his sentencing.

“There was no excuse for Lopez,” prosecutors said. “He was motivated by simple greed and sloth.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.

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