A Mexico-born illegal immigrant working as a police officer in Alaska was caught only after the U.S. citizen whose identity he stole applied for a passport, authorities said Tuesday.
Rafael Espinoza, who has dual citizenship, lives outside of the U.S. and recently applied for a passport, Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said. Around that time, the officer using Espinoza's name applied for a passport renewal under the same identity, according to police and federal authorities.
Rafael Mora-Lopez, 47, was arrested last week after federal agents processing his renewal request discovered the alleged fraud. He has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of passport fraud, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence.
Mew said the man whose identity Mora-Lopez stole is a real person, but had no "no record in the United States, beyond the fact that he existed."
Authorities said documents revealing Mora-Lopez's true identity were found in his home.
Mora-Lopez has formally resigned from the police department, where he worked for six years, Mew said. He was a well-regarded swing-shift patrol officer, winning an award after he and another officer conducted CPR on a person last year, Mew said.
The chief said Mora-Lopez also was on the verge of receiving a letter of recognition for working with authorities to rescue someone with a broken leg from Anchorage's treacherous coastal mudflats.
Authorities said Espinoza and Mora-Lopez have no known criminal records, which helped the officer elude detection when he was hired.
Mew said the department conducted a pre-employment criminal background check and that Mora-Lopez passed a polygraph test. A national fingerprint check also turned up empty.
Since Espinoza was living outside the country, that likely explained a lack of tip-offs, such as dual federal income tax filings.
A federal release order dated Tuesday said Mora-Lopez posted a $50,000 bond and listed electronic monitoring as a condition for release. He was ordered to home confinement on Friday at his arraignment.
Mora-Lopez's attorney, Allen Dayan, did not immediately return a call Tuesday.
Officials have said it's too early to predict implications of the case, such as any repercussions over Mora-Lopez's testimony in past criminal trials or his work in cases ranging from traffic tickets to arrests and domestic violence calls.
The case also complicates benefit procedures, such as paying pension earned by Mora-Lopez under the assumed identity, Mew added.
Mora-Lopez is married with a child, and has lived in Anchorage since the late 1980s, his attorney said in court. His wife could not immediately be reached by phone Tuesday.
The case is similar to one involving a Mexican national who took the identity of a dead cousin who was a U.S. citizen in order to become a Milwaukee police officer. Oscar Ayala-Cornejo was deported to Mexico in 2007.
Mora-Lopez's arrest comes two months after another Anchorage police officer, Anthony Rollins, was convicted of sexually assaulting women while on duty.