An Anchorage police officer who took on a false identity that masked his Mexican citizenship has been arrested and charged with passport fraud, federal officials said Friday.
At a news conference Friday, U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said that patrolman Rafael Espinoza, on the Anchorage police force for about six years, was really Rafael Mora-Lopez, a Mexican national working in the United States illegally.
The man known as Officer Espinoza -- Mora-Lopez, in reality -- was an excellent employee, Police Chief Mark Mew said. The investigation has so far not turned up any information that Mora-Lopez was involved in any other criminal activity outside the case announced Friday, Mew said.
"His problem was he lied his way into the job," Mew said.
The identity swap was discovered when the police officer applied for a U.S. passport in January and officials from the State Department found that the Rafael Espinoza identity he was using was actually another person, a U.S. citizen in the Lower 48, Loeffler said.
The investigation is continuing, Loeffler said.
"We're just sorting through everything at this point," Loeffler said. "What happened is as soon as we were able to identify who the person was, the most important thing was to take action."
Mora-Lopez was arrested Thursday. Loeffler declined to say when Mora-Lopez entered the United States and where he has been since then. She said he didn't appear to be part of a larger conspiracy.
"We have no evidence at this time that this individual had been anything but a good police officer," Loeffler said.
Still, the man known as Espinoza handled many cases in six years, Mew said.
The state Attorney General's office will be looking closely at cases Officer Espinoza investigated, said John Skidmore, supervisor of the department's Special Prosecutions Unit.
"At this time, we have no reason to believe, with what we know so far, that this gentleman, this officer's, good work for APD has in any way been compromised or questioned," Skidmore said. "The work that he performed, the other facts to which he testified, we have no reason to believe that any of that is inaccurate. He did so under an assumed name, and yes that's something we need to evaluate and look at."
Part of the ongoing investigation will look into how the Mexican national slipped through the screening process for Anchorage police officers, Mew said. For example, officers must pass a lie-detector test during the interview process, Mew said.
"As part of that, do you ask them their name?" a reporter asked Mew.
"He obviously got through the polygraph," Mew said. "I can tell you what we generally ask, but what's at issue is what did we ask on that day, in that interview, and we haven't gotten to that yet."
Both Espinozas -- the real one and the one hired by the Anchorage Police Department -- had "squeaky clean backgrounds," Mew said. There was nothing to indicate the man should not have been hired, he said.
Loeffler's office said in a prepared statement that Mora-Lopez is 51 years old. At his arraignment just after Loeffler and Mew took questions from reporters, Mora-Lopez told a U.S. magistrate judge he was 47.
Mora-Lopez pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. Passport fraud, a felony, carries a maximum 10-year sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
Judge John D. Roberts set Mora-Lopez's bail at $50,000 and approved conditions for his release that include home confinement and electronic monitoring.
Mora-Lopez's attorney revealed that his client had turned in a letter of resignation to the police department. The attorney, who declined to give his name, told the judge that Mora-Lopez had lived in Anchorage since the late 1980s and he has a wife and child living here.
Wearing orange prison clothes, Mora-Lopez had tears in his eyes as court officers put him in handcuffs and led him from the room.
"I was pretty proud to serve the community," Mora-Lopez said as he shuffled out.
Reach Casey Grove at email@example.com or 257-4589.