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Oakland City Council Candidate Scrutinized Over Real Estate Deals

OAKLAND (CBS 5) -- Real estate broker Mario Juarez is running for Oakland City Council. While a number of notable officials and organizations have endorsed him, his business practices are under scrutiny.

It sounded like a promising investment, a future biodiesel plant at the site of the old Oakland Army Base. So, Mario Bucio and his wife Hilda took out an equity line of credit on their house and lent $210,000 to Juarez.

But the Bucios say Juarez never paid them back. And the site for the plant is still empty. "He was able to win our trust, and then abuse it so that he could basically steal money from us," said Hilda Bucio.

They're not the only ones complaining. Pedro Oropeza said he paid Juarez more than $20,000 to help him open up a sports bar in Oakland. But more than a year later, Oropeza said, "I see the building is empty so I say, 'Mario what happened? I see nothing is done.'"

Oropeza said Juarez stopped taking his calls. He has no sports bar, his life savings are gone and Oropeza had to break the news to his college bound son. "Mi hijo you need to wait now because I don't have no money," Oropeza recalled telling his son.

And it's not just the Bucios and Oropeza families who are angry. CBS 5 found many other clients complaining of Juarez's allegedly deceptive business practices, including the city of Oakland.

According to city documents, Juarez contracted with Oakland to collect unpaid judgments in 2002. The city said he then made "fraudulent representations" and kept all the money. In 2007, just days before the case went to trial Juarez settled and paid the city back $31,942.

CBS 5 asked Juarez to talk about the complaints against him.

CBS 5: "Some of the people that you have dealt with in the past say you are not so honest, that they don't support you in this candidacy."

"This is issues that have come up before," he said.

CBS 5: "Mauro and Hilda Bucio, they claim that they lent you $200,000 for a biodiesel company?

Juarez: "Right."

CBS 5: "Did they lend you that money?"

Juarez: "You know those are things that are currently under litigation and those matters are being resolved through litigation. For me to speak about those things while there is litigation taking place would be highly inappropriate."

His biodiesel plant website claims he is in partnership with the East Bay Municipal Utility District, but the utility said that is not exactly true.

"They are our lessee and we are their landlord," said EBMUD spokesman Charles Hardy. CBS 5 asked Hardy if anything had happened, he said not yet.

Juarez claims he is working on many projects in his various companies and that is one of the projects that he is working on. But he told CBS 5 much of the information is not being given out now.

Then there's the deal Juarez had with Oropeza to build a bar in Oakland.

CBS 5: "But you never paid him back the $30,000 that he gave you?"

Juarez: "You assume that money was due to him."

CBS 5: "That is not true?"

Juarez: "It is not true, and it's highly inappropriate for you to make that assumption."

He then asked CBS 5 to leave, saying the interview was over. But later he called and requested another interview.

Juarez opened up by apologizing for kicking us out of his office. Then he thanked us for the opportunity to answer questions we had. He insists he runs ethical and legitimate company.

"This political mudslinging by disgruntled folks is just not the right way to do it," Juarez said, blaming it on his political opponents.

Juarez requested a second interview after filing a police report against one of the people who said he stole their money. Juarez is now accusing Mauro Bucio of assaulting him at a public event last month, a charge Bucio's attorney denies.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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