Federal prosecutors are requesting a year in prison, three years of probation and a $250,000 fine for the man who worked as an Anchorage police officer the past eight years even though he is a Mexican national in this country illegally.
A sentencing memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in Alaska on Thursday calls Rafael Mora-Lopez "nearly unique" when it comes to the undocumented immigrants that come before the court. Almost all of the others have been deported multiple times, have aggravated felony convictions or numerous misdemeanors, and often have few job skills or little education, assistant U.S. attorney Thomas Bradley wrote in the 25-page memorandum.
"Most identity thieves themselves are felons and fugitives who steal an identity in order to hide from the law," Bradley said.
According to the memorandum, Mora-Lopez holds a degree in chemical engineering from a "prestigious" university in Mexico. He worked various jobs in Alaska, including as a bus driver with the Municipality of Anchorage and eventually became a police officer -- "a job that by all accounts he performed in an exemplary manner."
His fellow Anchorage police officers were rocked when it was discovered earlier this year that Mora-Lopez was in this country illegally. They've described him as an outstanding officer and good colleague who took protecting the citizens of Anchorage to heart. His illegal status came to light when he applied for renewal of the passport he had been using in someone else's name and the other man, Rafael Alberto Espinoza, had also recently applied for a new passport himself.
Mora-Lopez has committed no other crimes aside from those associated with illegally using the identity of a U.S. citizen. The memorandum lays those out in detail -- passport fraud dating back 20 years; false claim to U.S. citizenship that allowed him to get driver's licenses, Permanent Fund dividends, mortgages, even a bankruptcy filing; voter fraud; illegal possession of firearms including in his work as an Anchorage cop, and aggravated identity theft.
Mora-Lopez initially came to the U.S. under his real name on a temporary visa but stayed after it had expired. He assumed the identity of Espinoza, a man who, according to some news reports, the Mora-Lopezes knew in Mexico.
Over the years, Mora-Lopez, using the false identity, renewed the passport a couple of times without detection, and obtained naturalization for his wife. The couple had a daughter who was born here, bought a nice home in Anchorage, voted in many local, state and national elections, and "generally conducted himself as a lawful member of society."
"It was all a lie," Bradley wrote, suggesting that Mora-Lopez could have eventually obtained legal residency if he had had the patience to go through the immigration process.
As a police officer, "every time he raised his hand in court and swore to tell the truth he committed perjury. Every word of his former testimony is now subject to impeachment. Every case in which he testified is potentially in jeopardy," Bradley wrote. "How many guilty offenders may walk free based on challenges to his word, even if he was completely truthful beyond the threshold question: 'What is your name?'"
Mora-Lopez has pleaded guilty to the federal charges and has repaid $27,000 in Permanent Fund money. He has been released on bail and living in Anchorage.
Sentencing is set for Aug. 25 and the U.S. Attorney's Office is asking for a stiff financial penalty, although less time in prison than some of the offenses carry, ostensibly because Mora-Lopez likely will be deported. The penalty should be stiff enough to deter other white-collar illegal immigrants, but it doesn't necessarily need to protect the public safety because, in this case, Mora-Lopez doesn't present a threat to public safety, the memorandum says.
A one-year jail term reflects the seriousness of the offense and a significant fine is "an appropriate economic penalty for economic crimes, and serves to partially take away this defendant's unjust enrichment from this twenty-year fraud," Bradley wrote.
Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com
Alaska Dispatch Publishing