Police officer who faked U.S. citizenship gets 3 months in jail

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 25, 2011 10:18 PM
Police officer who faked U.S. citizenship gets 3 months in jail

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - An illegal immigrant from Mexico who admitted faking U.S. citizenship while serving as an Anchorage police officer for six years was sentenced on Thursday to three months in prison.

Rafael Mora-Lopez, 47, who pleaded guilty in June to federal charges of passport fraud and falsely claiming to be a citizen, was also fined $10,000 and ordered placed on three years of supervised release after his jail term.

Mora-Lopez, who was known for two decades in Anchorage under the assumed name of Rafael Espinoza, was a local police officer from 2005 until he was arrested in April of this year.

The real Rafael Espinoza is a natural-born U.S. citizen who was a neighbor of Mora-Lopez's wife in Guadalajara in the 1980s.

According to court documents and Mora-Lopez's admissions, he claimed the birth date and Social Security number of the other man in a fraud that came to light when both men applied for passport renewals.

The revelation shocked fellow police officers, Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said at the time, because the man known as Rafael Espinoza was an exemplary officer who was popular with co-workers. Shortly before he was arrested, he had been formally commended for helping rescue a hypothermic hiker.

He had worked as a city bus driver before being hired by the police department.

Several of Mora-Lopez's former colleagues and friends wrote letters to the judge seeking leniency and expressing hope that he will be able to remain in the United States. Many attended the sentencing.

Whether he will be deported is a matter for federal immigration officials to decide, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Bradley said.

Mora-Lopez's wife is a naturalized citizen, but her status was granted on the basis of her husband's supposed citizenship, Bradley said. The two have a daughter who is a citizen, he added.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)