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05/24/2010

Former port officer convicted on theft charges in ICE investigation

TUCSON, Ariz. - A former U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer has been convicted of theft and making false statements following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

Jose Lopez, 58, of Sierra Vista, Ariz., was found guilty by a federal grand jury here last Friday of one count of theft of government money and 26 counts of making false statements to the Department of Homeland Security.

"Lopez violated the public trust in pursuit of his own greed," said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. "I want to thank the Department of Homeland Security officials for their dedication in rooting out corruption and protecting our borders."

Paul Layman, acting special agent in charge of the division of ICE OPR which oversees Tucson, said his agents relied on video surveillance equipment to capture Lopez on tape repeatedly pilfering the fees he collected in the performance of his duties.

"Thanks to the cooperation of CBP management during this investigation, our agents were able to covertly deploy video technology in their facility, which led to the strongest evidence in this case," Layman explained.

The evidence at trial showed that Jose Lopez was a CBP officer at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz. He began working at the port in 1997 as an inspection officer. In 2007, he was assigned to work as a cashier in the office where immigration permits are issued to the public. Beginning in February 2008, if not earlier, Lopez began skimming cash from the cash register and filing false daily shift reports with CBP, which did not account for the money he was stealing.

Lopez was arrested June 24, 2009, following the ICE OPR investigation. The indictment alleged Lopez stole more than $2,400 in December 2008 alone. Lopez confessed to having stolen thousands of dollars which ended upon his arrest.

A conviction for theft of government money carries a maximum penalty of 10 years, a fine of $250,000 or both. A conviction for making false statements carries a maximum penalty of five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Lopez's sentencing is set for August 9.