Alaska cop found to be illegal immigrant: prosecutors

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Fri Apr 22, 2011 9:31pm EDT

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - An Anchorage police officer accused of being an illegal immigrant using a fake identity has been arrested and charged with passport fraud, federal prosecutors said on Friday.

The Anchorage Police Department patrolman known as Rafael Espinoza is in truth a Mexican citizen named Rafael Mora-Lopez, said Karen Loeffler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska.

The false identity was discovered after Mora-Lopez, 47, sought renewal of his passport, Loeffler said, and used suspicious information that triggered an investigation by the State Department and other federal agencies.

"We discovered that there were two people using all of the same identifiers," she said.

Mora-Lopez was arrested on Thursday, immediately after the use of Espinoza's identity was confirmed, and discharged from his job, Loeffler said.

Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said Mora-Lopez, posing as Espinoza, passed all background checks when he was hired in 2005, including fingerprint checks.

Mew described Mora-Lopez as a "sterling" officer with a good reputation and a "very professional" manner.

"He's been a good employee," Mew said at a news conference announcing the charges. "The problem is, obviously, he is not Rafael Espinoza."

Colleagues of the officer were "devastated" to learn the news, especially those who worked the busy evening shifts with him, Mew said.

"He was known as a core member of the shift. He's a popular guy. Everybody likes him," Mew said. "We're going to miss him. But he did what he did and the chickens come home to roost."

At an arraignment hearing late Friday, Mora-Lopez pleaded innocent to the sole count of passport fraud, a felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A trial was set for June 27.

Federal and defense attorneys agreed that the former police officer could remain confined in his Anchorage home until then.

Defense attorney Alan Dayan, at the arraignment, described Mora-Lopez as committed to Anchorage, where he has lived since the late 1980s and has a family.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan)

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