Alaska officer accused of ID theft pleads guilty

June 1, 2011 - 5:43 PM
Illegal Immigrant Officer

FILE - In this undated file photo provided by the Anchorage Police Department, Rafael Mora-Lopez is shown. Mora-Lopez, who was born in Mexico and lived for years in Alaska as Rafael Espinoza, was scheduled to appear Wednesday, June 1, 2011, in federal court, where he is expected to plead guilty to charges of passport fraud and false claim of U.S. citizenship. (AP Photo/Anchorage Police Department, File)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A former Anchorage police officer accused of living in the country illegally under a stolen identity for more than two decades pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges.

Rafael Mora-Lopez, who was born in Mexico and has lived in Alaska for years as Rafael Alberto Espinoza, appeared in federal court in Anchorage, where he pleaded guilty to passport fraud and false claim of U.S. citizenship.

He faces up to 13 years in prison at his Aug. 25 sentencing hearing.

Mora-Lopez has declined to comment. His attorney, Allen Dayan, did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

According to court documents filed in May, Mora-Lopez's wife, Margarita Cynthia Espinoza, was a neighbor of the real Rafael Alberto Espinoza in Guadalajara, Mexico, in the 1980s. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Bradley said Rafael Espinoza is a U.S. citizen who was born in Santa Monica, Calif., and now lives in Mexico, working as an attorney.

It's unclear if Mora-Lopez and Rafael Espinoza knew each other. Rafael Espinoza could not immediately be reached Wednesday.

Mora-Lopez, 47, has lived in Anchorage since the late 1980s. He worked as a city bus driver for six years and then as a well-regarded police officer for six years, until his arrest in April. He said in court Wednesday that he graduated from college as a chemical engineer, but he did not elaborate.

Mora-Lopez initially pleaded not guilty to passport fraud and has been out on bail under home confinement and electronic monitoring.

According to court documents, Mora-Lopez used Rafael Espinoza's Social Security number, name and date of birth to apply for an Alaska driver's license in June 1989. He presented a birth certificate and Social Security card as evidence of his identity, the records said.

Over the years, Mora-Lopez received more than $27,000 in dividends issued to Alaska residents out of investment profits from the Alaska Permanent Fund — the state's oil-wealth savings account — and repeatedly used the assumed identity to vote in local and national elections, according to the documents.

The state is considering whether to file charges in connection to the payouts, according to Assistant Attorney General John Novak.

Court records say Mora-Lopez used the false identity and citizenship to bring his future wife to Alaska and help her obtain naturalization as a U.S. citizen "based on her marriage to him as a citizen." Authorities have said the couple has a child. No charges have been filed against Margarita Cynthia Espinoza.

Authorities discovered Mora-Lopez's true identity after he applied for a passport renewal and the State Department noted someone else appeared to have a passport under the same identity, according to court documents.

Police and federal authorities said neither Mora-Lopez nor Rafael Espinoza had any known criminal record, so a pre-employment background check on Mora-Lopez found nothing. He also passed a polygraph test.

The case leaves the Anchorage Police Department facing various complications, such as potential challenges to Mora-Lopez's pension earned under the false identity and his testimony in past criminal trials.

The case is similar to one involving a Mexican national who took the identity of a dead cousin who was a U.S. citizen to become a Milwaukee police officer. The man was deported to Mexico in 2007.

Mora-Lopez's arrest came two months after another Anchorage police officer, Anthony Rollins, was convicted of sexually assaulting women while on duty.