This tumultuous year has proven the essential nature of nonpartisan local news. Every day we bring you news critical to staying informed and active in the community. Join us with a tax-deductible donation.

A Santa Ana police officer has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge alleging he accepted $128,000 in bribes from an unnamed crime figure seeking to protect his illegal business activities, authorities announced Tuesday.

Officer Steven Lopez, a 28-year-old of Chino, was charged with one count of bribery after admitting he agreed to stop compliance checks and police searches and seizures at illegal businesses under the crime figure’s control, federal authorities said in a Tuesday statement.

Read the statement by federal prosecutors here.

Lopez served as a police officer with the Santa Ana Police Dept. from April 2016 to November this year. Lopez had been receiving bribe money from August, 2019 to last month, authorities said. The FBI conducted an investigation.

Upon entering his guilty plea agreement Tuesday, authorities said Lopez could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. The case is being handled by the federal courts’ Central District of California.

The Santa Ana Police Dept. has initiated an Internal Affairs investigation into Lopez, according to a statement the department put out the same day.

“Lopez is currently assigned to his residence on administrative leave, and his peace officer powers have been suspended, pending the outcome of both investigations,” the department statement reads.

In the statement, Police Chief David Valentin said Lopez’ alleged actions “tear at the core of what our industry represents and erodes the public trust we work so hard to uphold and maintain.” 

“I am thoroughly disappointed and angered by the alleged conduct of this indictment and it is not representative of our Department,” he said, adding “the residents of Santa Ana put their trust in our officers to uphold the law and the actions of this one isolated officer has violated that trust.”

This is the most recent announcement by federal authorities among a series of probes into Santa Ana officials and departments. 

Voice of OC previously reported that the FBI had issued a set of subpoenas around the Santa Ana police union and its president, Gerry Serrano, who leads the group representing officers during salary and benefits negotiations at City hall.

And last year, a federal grand jury indicted former Santa Ana police officer Brian Patric Booker on three felonies stemming from the June 2014 arrest and use of force against Edgar Vargas Arzate. The incident was captured on video and gained national attention.

A jury trial for Booker is scheduled for Feb. 2 next year in Los Angeles, said U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Ciaran McEvoy.

Tuesday’s announcement comes just before the Santa Ana City Council meets today to discuss the possibility of creating a much-anticipated police oversight commission. 

What that commission will look like, who will serve on it, and what kind of investigative powers and legal teeth it will have — if any — remains to be seen.

“Let me be absolutely clear, these charges should in no way be a reflection of the women and men who serve the community of Santa Ana with honor and integrity each and every day,” Valentin said.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.