SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) --Federal authorities uncovered a sophisticated bribery scheme to fix or dismiss over 1,000 Orange County court cases behind the backs of judges and prosecutors.
It was a full house inside a federal court room on Wednesday in Santa Ana, where 10 defendants and their lawyers faced a judge for racketeering charges.
The unsealed indictment named 12 people in the case including Jose Lopez, a former Orange County Superior Court clerk, who was at the center of the alleged scheme.
"An individual, who has a sworn duty to protect the integrity of our court system, accepted bribes, and that's why this case is so important for our community," said United States Attorney Eileen Decker.
Over the course of five years, Lopez is accused of fixing more than 1,000 criminal cases in exchange for bribes. Prosecutors estimate he's allegedly taken more than $200,000.
According to the indictment, he illegally resolved 69 DUI misdemeanors, 160 other misdemeanor cases and 805 traffic-related infractions.
"Their official records indicated that they had completed either their community service or their sentence, when in fact they had not," Decker said.
Lopez pleaded not guilty. He is accused of using the money to take trips overseas and to Las Vegas, as well as opening a restaurant in Garden Grove, which he has since sold.
Prosecutors allege his 11 recruiters found people through car and truck clubs.
"They would pay that middleman, who would then contact Mr. Lopez, who would then alter the court records," Decker said.
The court says an employee found Lopez's changes in 2015, then the investigation was launched. It caused the court to call back hundreds of defendants, a process it says is done.
The court released the following statement:
"The Court has spent countless hours refining its auditing practices and redesigning its software to insure that any attempt to improperly modify Court records will immediately come to the attention of a supervisor."
Lopez's bail is set at $50,000. He is due back in court on Nov. 1.