Pubdate: Sat, 27 Oct 2007
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2007 San Antonio Express-News
Author: Lynn Brezosky


A former narcotics task force deputy who admitted using  his position 
to squeeze money from drug dealers was  sentenced Friday to eight 
years and four months in  federal prison followed by 200 hours of 
community  service after his release.

Julio Alfonso Lopez, 46, of Zapata, pleaded guilty in  July 2006 to 
extorting $44,500 from drug traffickers to  "protect" drug loads 
coming through Zapata County on  the Mexican border.

Meliton Valadez, 33, who pleaded guilty to acting as  the middle man 
between drug traffickers and Lopez, was  sentenced to six years and 
six months in federal prison  followed by 150 hours of community 
service. Valadez  also is from Zapata.

FBI investigators in Laredo showed Valadez took cash  from drug 
dealers on four occasions between July 2005  and April 2006.

In exchange, Lopez used his influence as deputy  commander of the 
Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task  Force to keep law enforcement 
away from what he  believed to be cocaine loads totaling more than 
100 kilograms clearing the county.

Lopez had been deputy commander for about a year when  FBI agents 
arrested him in April 2006. He had worked in  law enforcement for 26 
years, mostly as an investigator  for the Zapata County attorney's 
office, before joining  the task force of agencies in Webb and Zapata 
counties.  He is the brother of state District Judge Joe Lopez.

Defense attorney Octavio Salinas said Lopez accepted  his 
responsibility and pleaded guilty rather than put  his family through a trial.

"He had just gotten a divorce and he started abusing  alcohol and 
substances," Salinas said. "Obviously he  lost his good judgment and 
during this time period he  got into the FBI sting and fell into the trap."

Salinas called the crime "fabricated" because the  investigators 
nabbed Lopez on make-believe shipments.

Lopez is free on bond until a prison date is set.  Valadez previously 
had his bond revoked for failing to  submit to drug testing and counseling.
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