Crooked Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy breaks silence

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Robert Juarez gets up every day at 4:30 a.m. to take a bus from Montebello to downtown L.A. to sharpen pencils, as he describes it. His job as an administrative assistant is quite a change from his previous life as both a sheriff's deputy and a "crooked cop" who spent four years in prison.

"I was a crooked cop. There's no getting around it; you are who you are. I was a dirty cop. I screwed up," he says.

It's something that Juarez refused to admit for a long time. But the former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy had to admit after being convicted in federal court of stealing drug money from crime scenes. That was more than 20 years ago, but Juarez spoke with Eyewitness News about his past, including the first time he crossed the line into being a crooked cop.

"First time I crossed the line as far as bad reports was in patrol," Juarez says. "When I was in major (crimes), I crossed the line a lot as far as evidence and moving it around. The major thing was when that one partner, Mike, came up and handed me a bag with money."

Juarez says that saying 'no' in a situation like that may sound easy, but it never is.

"If I would have refused, probably within days, something would have been dropped and drummed up on me that I was doing, or accuse me of something, moving evidence around, whatever," Juarez says. "It would have got to the captain and I probably would have been booted out of the crew, and I would have been sent back with what they call a jacket, 'Hey you gotta watch this guy cause he's dirty.'"

After he took that cash for the first time, there was no going back. After all, he said, "You can't go back to the guy later and say, you know what? I changed my mind."

"After I got the money, the next search warrant that happened and there was money thrown around, everybody took a cut," Juarez says. "After that it got to the point where the search warrant -- it didn't matter if the suspect got away. Find the bag with the money."

Juarez was indicted on federal corruption charges. He maintained his innocence throughout the trial but was convicted when fellow deputies, who had stolen right alongside of Juarez, testified against him. His story will be told as part of two upcoming documentaries, one of them produced and co-directed by his own son, Nicholas Juarez.

"I had left school," Nicholas says. "I was just kind of lost and I was sitting there on the street, and I said a prayer to myself essentially. I said one of these days I will make good of everything that's happened bad in our life."

That prayer has turned into "Raised by the Badge", the story of both of his parents. His mother, Cynthia, retired honorably from the LAPD after a 22-year career. But it was his desperate need to find redemption for his father that led to this project.

"In the beginning, it wasn't about the footage," Nicholas says. "I just wanted my dad back in an environment amongst police officers. To be one among them, in some capacity. It wasn't about filming him, it was just about getting him in there, letting him feel how he felt before."

It was also about two sons finding some healing. Nicholas' older brother, Michael Juarez, is helping out with the film as well.

"It's very hard to relive," Michael says. "Some of the things I went through, I was a junior in high school when he was indicted, a senior when he went to prison. It was just complete shame."

"We were all estranged from each other once this happened," Nicholas says. "We were never the same. This has brought us back together again. It's given us focus and a goal as a family, and I'm grateful for that."

And now, Robert Juarez is back among police officers; not working as a cop, but warning them of where he went wrong. Matthew Casalicchio with the Los Angeles Police Department organized speeches in front of his fellow police officers.

"For me, it drove home the aspect of family, I guess, and how things can go bad and it not only ruins your life, it ruins your family's life," Casalicchio says.

Getting on stage, staring down at the life he could have had hasn't been an easy thing for Robert Juarez to do.

"The thought that runs through my head is they're probably thinking, 'What the hell is this dirty cop doing up here talking to us? We're not dirty,'" Juarez says. "But then there might be just a slight chance that there's one cop in there who's thinking of doing something. And he's thinking, you know, 'Why not? Who's gonna know?' And that's the way we started off. 'Who's gonna know?'"

"At our last event, one of the officers came up to my father and said you're still a cop," Nicholas says, tearing up. "That was a dream come true for me. He needed to hear that he was still a cop. There was still good in him."

"Raised By The Badge" is set to come out in 2015. The other documentary, "Freeway: Crack In The System" will be out in January.

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