What is it with Oakland City Council candidates who can't manage their own money, but are convinced they should manage ours? Last month, we told you about the checkered financial and legal past of Clinton Killian, a former city planning commissioner who is running for the council's at-large seat. Now comes the story of Mario Juarez, who is taking on veteran council President Ignacio De La Fuente in the June 3 election, despite enduring numerous financial and legal problems of his own.
Public records show Juarez has mismanaged his own money so badly that he went bankrupt in 2002, and continued to struggle financially until he finally emerged from Chapter 13 late last year. The Fruitvale district real estate agent and former bill collector also has been sued repeatedly during the past six years on allegations of fraud by business partners and clients, including the city of Oakland. The city claimed he illegally withheld more than $30,000 in payments owed to taxpayers.
But a closer look at Juarez's troubled past reveals that it goes deeper than his many legal and financial woes. It's also a story about an immigrant kid who was sexually abused by a pedophile, had the courage to tell about it, made sure his tormentor went to prison, and then sought justice from the man's employer, the Boy Scouts. It's also a story about how to this day, at the age of 31, Juarez continues to encounter problems, most of which appear to stem from what happened to him as a child, but ultimately are his own responsibility.
I first met Mario Roberto Juarez Jr. in 1998. At the time, I covered courts for the Daily Review in Hayward, and was reporting on the criminal case of Jorge Francisco Paz, a former Boy Scout master and longtime employee of Oakland public schools. Paz was a vile, despicable character who had confessed to molesting several boys, including Juarez, eight years earlier. But I remember being impressed with Juarez because he had the courage to come to court and tell the judge not to accept a plea deal that his abuser had reached with prosecutors. Paz was to be put in prison for fourteen years, but Juarez felt strongly that the sentence was too lenient. So the twenty-year-old stood up in court during Paz's sentencing hearing and told the judge what he thought.
Juarez was just a twelve-year-old immigrant, newly arrived from Honduras, when he first met Paz in 1990. Juarez's mother later testified that she had enrolled her son in the Boy Scouts because his father had died and she believed he needed positive male role models. Paz then immediately took young Mario under his wing and proceeded to molest him, and other scouts, during a series of overnight camping trips. Juarez was ashamed and kept it a secret. But then, three years later in 1993, he found the courage to tell police what Paz had done. Soon thereafter, the Boy Scout master confessed.
In 1996, at the age of eighteen, Juarez decided to sue the Boy Scouts. With the help of two Bay Area attorneys, Michael Kinane and Charles Bonner, Juarez alleged that the Boy Scouts had failed to protect him from harm. The scouts countered that they were not responsible for what happened because they had no idea Paz was a sexual predator since he had no prior criminal history.
In 2000, the Boy Scouts almost got Juarez's lawsuit dismissed, but an appellate court kept it alive, ruling that there was some evidence the organization could have done more to protect young boys. The court noted that the Boy Scouts had developed an anti-sexual-abuse program based on the premise that the most effective way to prevent molestation was to educate children about it and to teach them to strongly resist inappropriate adult behavior. The scouts, however, had failed to provide the program in Spanish to the then-non-English-speaking Juarez and his family.
Meanwhile, as the case dragged on in court, Juarez had begun a life of his own. He had two kids, got married, bought a house in San Leandro, and launched a collection agency. But it turned out that the young man took on far more than he could handle – a theme that would be replayed for years to a come.
By 2002, Juarez's world had started coming apart. The Boy Scouts jury ruled against him, saying the organization had not been negligent. A second collection agency he opened went belly up, and his partner sued him for fraud and breach of contract. And his marriage unraveled, leaving him with a $20,000 settlement he couldn't afford. Then, as his bank was about to foreclose on his house, he filed for bankruptcy. At the time, he listed his assets (mostly his house) at $309,450 and his debts as $362,509 — although other creditors later filed claims, saying his true debts totaled $678,999. His debts included $30,000 in legal fees from the Boy Scouts case.
In a recent interview, Juarez said that despite what it cost him, his six-year battle with the scouts was worth it. He pointed to the appellate court ruling, which for the first time said the Boy Scouts had a duty to inform children and their families that sexual predators could be drawn to it. "The intent of the case was to make case law, and we did that; we got a published opinion," he said. "Before that, there was no real duty to protect kids. The ruling said the Boy Scouts must do certain things because back then it was a magnet for pedophiles."
Juarez told Full Disclosure that the Boy Scouts case played a role in his filing for bankruptcy, although his financial problems were caused mostly by the $20,000 he owed his ex-wife. But he told the court a different story, blaming the failed collection agency as the main reason for the bankruptcy. Regardless, the bankruptcy judge allowed him to erase several of his debts, including his credit cards and legal costs from the Boy Scouts case. In the end, the court said he only had to pay his ex-wife the $20,000 plus child support, along with his two mortgages.
But even with those breaks, his problems didn't go away. Court records show that he failed to make his bankruptcy payments on time on at least twenty occasions from late 2003 to late 2007. He also fell behind repeatedly on his mortgage and child support payments. Things got so bad, in fact, that the court revoked his bankruptcy protection twice, and he had to plead to have it reinstated both times. Juarez told Full Disclosure that he fell behind on his bills because of sloppy bookkeeping. However, in court, he again told a different story, claiming that his troubles were caused by his new real estate business having tanked.
In November 2006, Juarez was sued for fraud by Oakland City Attorney John Russo in a case that proved to be a comedy of errors. Back in 2002, the city had awarded Juarez a contract to collect unpaid bills — even though he had just filed for bankruptcy, because he couldn't pay his own. In the lawsuit, Russo claimed that Juarez owed the city nearly $30,000 for its percentage of debts that he had collected under the city contract. However, in court filings, Russo acknowledged that the much of that total actually stemmed from an error by city staffers who had mistakenly paid Juarez $20,051 in November 2003. The city terminated Juarez's contract six months later.
Juarez maintains that the lawsuit, which was filed more than two years after the contract ended, was politically motivated because he had started making noises about running against De La Fuente and because the city attorney and council president are good friends. Russo, however, has denied that politics played any role in the lawsuit. And regardless, Juarez admitted to Full Disclosure that he had failed to pay the city everything he owed it, essentially placing the blame on bookkeeping oversights. Last year, he settled the case, and paid the city $31,942, which included interest on what he owed.
Court records show that Juarez also was sued at least two other times for allegedly not paying his clients a total of about $70,000 of debts that his now-defunct collection agency had collected for them. One of the lawsuits settled for an undisclosed amount; the other is scheduled for a hearing on Election Day.
So was Juarez using the money he owed his clients to pay off his bankruptcy? He denies it, but this much is clear: He has repeatedly forced his clients to sue him before paying them back and he obviously has trouble telling the truth.
His personal demons also appear to have not gone away. Last fall, his ex-wife accused him in court documents of beating his son. Araceli Lopez claimed that Juarez hit the boy "30 times," and that she had the pictures to prove it. A court-appointed counselor later recommended that Juarez should stay away from his son for a time, and the court ordered him to stop using corporal punishment and to take a "positive parenting class" at the Pleasanton Adult School.
Some of Juarez's legal and financial problems detailed here were first publicized last month on a web site created anonymously by people who obviously don't like him. The web site, however, contains nothing about his Boy Scout past. It also makes at least one erroneous allegation. The site claims Juarez was sued in 2005 for not paying his child support. However, the web site points to a case involving a different Mario Juarez, who, according to court documents, lived in Los Angeles before recently moving to Petaluma.
So what to make of all this? Readers of these pages know that Full Disclosure has been highly critical at times of the man Juarez is running against. But no matter how questionable De La Fuente's decisions have been over the years, Juarez does not appear to a suitable replacement. It seems pretty clear that he has not overcome what Paz did to him. Until he does, he deserves empathy, but not our vote.