By Rachel D'Oro
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A former Anchorage police officer accused of being an illegal immigrant who stole a U.S. citizen's identity previously worked as a well-esteemed bus driver in the same city, maintaining an excellent driving record throughout his six-year employment.
The driver known as Rafael Espinoza left his job as an Anchorage city bus driver in 2005 to become a police officer here.
The Mexico-born officer's real name is Rafael Mora-Lopez, a discovery made after he applied for a passport renewal at the same time the real Rafael Espinoza did, authorities said. The real Espinoza has a dual citizenship and lives outside of the U.S.
Mora-Lopez, 47, was arrested last week and is charged with federal passport fraud, which carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence. He has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail under home confinement and electronic monitoring.
Both Mora-Lopez and his attorney have declined to comment.
In his job as a bus driver, Mora-Lopez passed a criminal background check and was considered an exemplary employee, according to Anchorage's public transportation director, Lance Wilber. In 2001, Mora-Lopez received an award for attendance and his commitment to safety.
Mora-Lopez's former co-workers in the department held him in high regard, Wilber said.
"Frankly, they were surprised when they heard about this," he said of the identity case.
Mora-Lopez was respected as a police officer as well, winning an award after he and another officer conducted CPR on a person last year. He has formally resigned from the job, Police Chief Mark Mew said earlier this week.
Espinoza and Mora-Lopez have no known criminal records, so a pre-employment criminal background check by police turned up empty, police and federal authorities said. Mora-Lopez also passed a polygraph test.
Municipal attorney Dennis Wheeler said he could not release additional employment information because of personnel privacy rules and because the case is ongoing.
Mora-Lopez is married with a child and has lived in Anchorage since the late 1980s, his attorney, Allen Dayan, said in court.
In 1998, Mora-Lopez and his wife filed for bankruptcy under chapter seven, according to federal court records posted online, which show the case was closed later the same year. Because the actual court file has been archived, details of the case weren't immediately available Thursday.
His arrest leaves the police department juggling various complications, such as potential challenges to Mora-Lopez's testimony in past criminal trials or his pension earned under the assumed identity.
The 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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Mora-Lopez's arrest comes two months after another Anchorage police officer, Anthony Rollins, was convicted of sexually assaulting women while on duty.