Wisc. officer to plead guilty to falsifying identity

By John Diedrich
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 
Milwaukee, Wisc. — A man born in Mexico who assumed a dead relative's identity and became a Milwaukee police officer has agreed to plead guilty to a federal felony, according to court documents filed Friday.

Oscar Ayala-Cornejo, 24, will plead guilty to falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen, according to an agreement filed Friday.

Because of the plea, Ayala-Cornejo faces six to 12 months' incarceration, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson, the prosecutor in the case. The U.S. attorney's office is recommending a sentence on the low side of that range, the document says. Ayala-Cornejo has agreed to leave the United States. He is a Mexican citizen.

Hearings for his plea and sentencing have not been scheduled.

Ayala-Cornejo's attorney, Michael Steinle, said his client agreed to plead guilty to settle the issue quickly.

"He's anxious to put this behind him," Steinle said.

Ayala-Cornejo has been removed from the city payroll, a department spokeswoman said. He was suspended the day he was arrested by federal immigration agents on May 30.

His brother, Alex Ayala, also an officer, has been placed on administrative duty. The Milwaukee district attorney's office continues to investigate possible charges against an unnamed person in connection with the case. Also, there is an internal police investigation into whether others knew about Ayala's true identity and immigration status and didn't report it.

Ayala-Cornejo told investigators that he was born in Mexico on Oct. 10, 1982, according to the plea agreement. Ayala-Cornejo's father procured identification papers of his cousin, Jose Morales, who died earlier, it says.

Ayala-Cornejo admitted he falsely represented himself as Jose Morales to ultimately become a police officer, the agreement says.

Ayala-Cornejo changed his identity in 1999, according to a criminal complaint. He attended Pulaski High School under his real name but in 1999 moved to Hamilton High School as Morales. Three years later he was hired as a Milwaukee police aide and underwent the same background investigation that officers get. He became an officer in December 2004.

Chief Nannette Hegerty said her department "did everything it possibly could" to determine his identity.

Steinle said as a teenager, Ayala-Cornejo went along with a bad decision made by his parents.

"You can't undo a decision, and that's the problem he faced," Steinle said. "After living it, there was no turning back."

Copyright 2007 The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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