Defense attacks star witness' credibility

Published: 2011-04-29 09:26:48
Author: Mark E. Vogler

  SALEM, Mass. — The jury learned yesterday that Leo Lopez, the prosecution's star witness in the auto insurance fraud trial, has done a lot of crime that he won't have to go to jail or pay for.

"Thirty to thirty-five, roughly," Lopez, 31, of Lawrence, said yesterday when asked by Boston attorney David E. Meier to give his best estimate on the number of phony car crashes he set up.

"There are some 27 to 32 additional staged accidents that you did that you're not being charged with," said Meier, who is representing Andover attorney James C. Hyde, 59, of Boxford, one of three area men on trial for filing fraudulent insurance claims.

North Andover chiropractic clinic operator Michael Kaplan, 49, of Hampstead, N.H., and Omar Castillo, 38, of Methuen, a former van driver for Kaplan Chiropractic Office, are codefendants with Hyde, who is a partner of the law firm of Berger & Hyde.

Instead of grilling Lopez on the three "paper" car crashes he claimed to have set up in late 2002 for two law offices and two chiropractic clinics, three defense lawyers spent most of their time focusing on his reputation for fraud and propensity for lying while engaging in scams that bilked insurance companies out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Lopez got off to a rocky start at the outset of his four hours of cross examination when he said "yes" to one of the first questions asked by Salem attorney John Morris, who is Castillo's court-appointed attorney.

"We can agree that you're an honest, law abiding citizen?" Morris asked, getting Lopez — a native of the Dominican Republic — to agree.

"You've never been a citizen. You're a resident alien, which makes you subject to deportation," Morris said.

"Let me ask you some questions about being honest," he added.

To make his point, Morris brought out an easel with a large paper and began writing down 35 individual counts from three separate grand jury indictments and had Lopez inspect the corresponding documents.

"You're not a very honest person, are you?" Morris repeatedly asked, as referred to various fraud cases.

"I did mistakes," Lopez answered.

"You call them mistakes. I call them not being honest," Morris replied.

Some of the documents entered into evidence yesterday included correspondence between the attorney general and federal immigration officials which led to deportation proceedings being halted at the request of the attorney general last fall, allowing Lopez to become a star witness. There was also a cooperation agreement from the Commonwealth that waives restitution requirements that could put Lopez at risk to deportation.

Officials estimate the total insurance loss for the three accidents at $131,000.

"After the money ran out, it was all about not going to jail," Lawrence attorney Anthony K. Ortiz suggested of Lopez's decision to become a cooperating witness.

After immigration officials began proceedings against Lopez, "the new thing became not getting deported," said Ortiz, who represents Kaplan.

Cross-examination of Lopez is scheduled to continue today, the trial's 11th day.