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Former Lawrence officer gets 18 months for tow bribes

A federal judge in Boston sentenced a disgraced former Lawrence police officer Tuesday to 18 months in prison for soliciting gifts from a towing company in exchange for sending it business while he was on the job.

“You were the personification of the law; you broke the law,” US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf told Pedro Jose Lopez, 47, before sentencing the 15-year veteran of the Lawrence force. Wolf also levied a $10,000 fine and said of the financial penalty, “My main concern is whether it’s too little.”

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A jury found Lopez guilty in October of bribery, lying to a federal agent, and obstruction of justice. He was placed on leave after his arrest in 2012 and was convicted of soliciting a snowplow, valued at $4,000, from M&W Towing Co. of Lawrence, in exchange for sending tow jobs to the firm. He later lied about the transaction to an FBI agent and produced a bogus receipt, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors asserted that he received other gifts from M&W Towing, including cars, before the scheme was uncovered. The gifts had a combined value of about $9,500, prosecutors said.

With his family looking on, Lopez, who wore a tan suit and glasses, struggled to maintain his composure as he addressed Wolf before sentencing.

“I am embarrassed, and if I had to make several choices over again, it would be totally different,” said Lopez, his voice quavering as relatives cried in their seats. He embraced several of them after the hearing.

Lopez must report to federal custody by noon Feb. 24. Authorities have not determined where he will serve his sentence.

Prosecutor William F. Bloomer said during the hearing that Lopez’s actions “have given the Lawrence Police Department a black eye.”

The government had requested a 27-month sentence, which Bloomer said was necessary to show the public that “police officers are not above the law, and they will be held accountable.”

But Wolf opted for the lower sentence, in large part, he said, because of Lopez’s devotion to his family. Alexander R. Cain, his lawyer, alluded to that familial bond in remarks before sentencing and added that Lopez has no prior record, received commendations for heroism, and complied with all conditions of his release.

Cain had asked Wolf to sentence Lopez to a term of probation only. He said Lopez endured “tremendous adversity and a very difficult upbringing in his life.”

The defense attorney argued at trial that Lopez was doing his job by ordering the towing of illegally parked cars and that the case hinged on testimony from questionable witnesses.

But prosecutors countered that a review of one week in January 2011 showed that Lopez ordered 48 cars towed, while the average police officer made such an order only four times. And, the government said in court papers, the owner of the towing company, Wilson Calixto, feared he would be shut out of further towing business if he failed to go along with their arrangement.

In addition, court records show, Lopez told Calixto when the investigation began that it would be his word against Calixto’s and said, “I’m a cop. Who do you think they’ll believe?”

Lopez will be under supervised release for three years after he completes his term.

Wolf said Tuesday that he realized Lopez’s incarceration will be hard on the former officer’s family but added, “You made the decisions that have inflicted that pain.”

Cain said after the hearing, in an e-mail, that Lopez plans to appeal his conviction and sentence.

Milton J. Valencia of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.
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