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Ex-cop sentenced for extorting tow truck drivers

Published: Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 9:57 a.m. CST

(MCT) — A former Chicago police officer was sentenced Thursday to 31/2 years in federal prison for extorting bribes to steer business to tow truck drivers at crash scenes.

Juan Prado, a 12-year veteran of the department, pleaded guilty in July to pocketing $3,790 in payoffs in 2006 and 2007 from a tow truck operator who was secretly working undercover for the FBI. Prosecutors alleged that Prado had taken in more than $16,000 in all by directing business to bribe-paying tow truck drivers.

"You made a terrible mistake ... and there are consequences," U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan told Prado as he handed down the sentence.

Prado's sentence was the longest to be handed down to the seven Chicago police officers convicted and sentenced as part of an undercover FBI probe code-named Operation Tow Scam. Authorities charged three additional officers in recent weeks as part of the investigation.

A prosecutor who said tow truck drivers nicknamed Prado "Thirst" described Prado as a greedy former cop who left tow truck drivers with no choice but to pay him off to get business. The government released snippets of undercover conversations with the drivers in which Prado made it clear that they had to deal with him. "My scene. And I am the cop. And that's the way it goes," he was quoted as saying.

"These tow truck drivers knew there was a price of admission for these accidents," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Donovan. "It happened over and over again."

Friends and family painted Prado as a family man who helped many people while working as a cop and a social worker before that.

Prado wiped his eyes with a tissue as Agnotti Cowie, 26, a family friend, described how he supported her after her father and brother died.

"Prison isn't a place for him. He needs to be with us," she said.

Prado, 47, who spent much of the hearing with his head hung down, apologized for his wrongdoing.

"It was a terrible error in judgment. I don't know what happened to me," he said.

Prado resigned from the department shortly after he pleaded guilty to attempted extortion. He had been stripped of his police powers and reassigned to a desk job after he was charged in 2010.

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