Sixth Cop Charged in Towing Extortion Plot

Cops got payouts for steering business to tow companies, FBI says

Friday, Jul 2, 2010  |  Updated 10:19 PM CDT
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Sixth Cop Charged in Towing Extortion Plot

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An 11-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department is the sixth officer charged with extortion in "Operation Tow Scam" --  an investigation into bribes and extortion involving Chicago's towing industry.

Juan Prado, 45, surrendered Thursday to FBI special agents and Chicago Police officers.

Prado is assigned to uniformed patrol duties in the Shakespeare District.

Another Shakespeare District officer, James Wodnicki, 48, was charged Wednesday in connection with the investigation. The 20-year veteran allegedly solicited a $150 payment from a tow truck operator, who at the time was working with the FBI.

Prado was charged in a criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court with three counts of attempted extortion, the FBI said. The complaint was unsealed Thursday.

According to the complaint, Prado is alleged to have solicited three separate payments totaling more than $1,100 from a tow truck operator who was secretly working for the FBI. The payments were made after Prado allegedly steered business to the tow truck operator from traffic accidents in the 14th Police District on Aug. 10 and 17 in 2006, as well as on Oct. 12, 2006.

The charges are the result of a five-year multi-jurisdictional investigation, named "Operation Tow Scam," which is investigating allegations that Chicago Police officers were soliciting bribes and extorting cash and other payments from tow truck operators throughout the city of Chicago, the release said.

Also charged is tow truck driver Giovanni Rodriguez, 37, who is accused of lying repeatedly to FBI agents when they interviewed him four years ago.

Prado is among nine people charged in connection with the investigation.

Prado appeared before Judge Sidney I. Schenkier and was released on bond, pending his next court date, the FBI said.

If convicted, Prado faces a possible sentence of 60 years in prison.

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