ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A Mexican national illegally in the U.S. stole another man's identity and went on to become a police officer in Alaska, authorities said Friday.
Rafael Mora-Lopez pleaded not guilty to charges of passport fraud in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. At his arraignment, Mora-Lopez told a federal magistrate he is 47, even though officials listed his age as 51.
His attorney, Alan Dayan, declined to comment to The Associated Press.
Federal agents processing a renewal request for his passport discovered the alleged fraud. He was arrested Thursday after authorities searched his home and found documents confirming his true identity.
Mora-Lopez had been employed as an Anchorage police officer since 2005 under the name Rafael Espinoza. Police and federal prosecutors said both the real Espinoza — a U.S. citizen who lives outside Alaska — and Mora-Lopez have no known criminal records.
"We have no evidence that this individual had at the time been anything other than a good police officer," Karen Loeffler, U.S. attorney in Alaska, said of Mora-Lopez.
Officials said it's too soon to gauge implications of the case, such as any fallout over Mora-Lopez's court testimony in past criminal trials. They released limited details, saying the case was unfolding.
Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said the department conducted a pre-employment criminal background check on Mora-Lopez, who passed a polygraph test.
A national fingerprint check also turned up empty, according to Mew, who said the department would review the polygraph test results.
He said Mora-Lopez was considered a popular swing-shift officer who was respected by peers and others in the criminal justice system.
His arrest, conducted about 24 hours after case emerged, was a "bitter pill to swallow" for many in the police department, Mew said.
"His reputation here is one of a hard-working officer, one who was very professional," he said. "The problem, obviously, is he is not Rafael Espinoza."
John Skidmore, a state attorney, said there are no immediate plans to file state charges. He and other officials stressed that the case was under investigation.
"At this time, we have no reason to believe, from what we know so far, that this gentleman or this officer's good work for APD has in any way been compromised or questioned," Skidmore said.
U.S. Magistrate John D. Roberts set bond at $50,000 and ordered Mora-Lopez to home-confinement and electronic monitoring. His defense attorney said Mora-Lopez has a wife and child in Alaska and has close ties to Anchorage, where he has lived since the late 1980s.
"He's not going anywhere," Dayan said.
Mora-Lopez's arrest comes two months after Anthony Rollins, a former Anchorage police officer, was convicted of sexually assaulting women while on duty.
The passport fraud 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.
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