Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, June 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Reeling from recent news that a soccer coach had been arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting one of his players, league organizers, parents and the Las Vegas soccer community are still kicking around more questions than answers.
Interviews with neighbors, soccer officials, referees and parents reveal a portrait of a quiet, serious man who kept to himself but mostly appeared to be like any other soccer coach; passionate about the game and teaching it to children. In hindsight, some who knew him said there were moments that should have raised red flags.
Meanwhile, many in the soccer community are calling for the leagues that are not as strict in verifying the backgrounds of coaching candidates to step up their vetting process.
Marvin Geovanny Juarez, 35, was arrested May 27 on four counts of sexual assault and 11 counts of lewdness with a minor. The charges pertain to one of the players on his Atletico Club Las Vegas team, but Metro Police are looking for other victims.
Juarez, who has lived in Las Vegas since 2005, admitted to having sex with the 13 year-old male soccer player on two separate occasions. He is refusing interviews with the press, Metro Police said, but the El Salvador native said in his police statement that he was abused as a child.
“We were totally shocked and surprised,” said Marco Villanueva, who manages teams with players from 11 to 17 years old for the Las Vegas Valley Soccer League, one of at least two leagues in which Juarez’s teams participated. “The issue is that many coaches will put their teams in multiple leagues or enter their team just for a tournament, and there is a lot of movement. I’d say 80 percent of our coaches are licensed and have been thoroughly checked, but (Juarez) was in that other 20 percent. We are going to do things differently now.”
Villanueva said, for the most part, Juarez acted like every other coach, and he never observed any unusual behavior from him.
“The guy comes to me and he seems normal,” Villanueva said. “He said he had played soccer all his life and he had been coaching in another league already. The only things I did notice was that he supported his teams, and he had more than one. I mean he paid registration, referees’ fees, bought uniforms. He paid everything, and most coaches don’t do that.”
Juarez also would drive the team to practice and games in his Toyota Celica, making multiple trips with kids packed into the relatively small car, according to Villanueva, who said that was also atypical.
The two reported incidents of sexual assault allegedly occurred in Juarez’s home. On both occasions, according to the police report, Juarez called the player’s mother and asked permission to take the child out before dropping him at home. The first time was for food and the second time to buy shin guards and new cleats.
Juarez lived on the ground floor of the Harmony Square Apartments, which sit just east of UNLV’s main campus and to the south of the Orr Middle School field where his soccer teams played and practiced. His apartment’s yellow door faces the complex’s bean-shaped pool.
Neighbors said Juarez lived alone and kept to himself. While those next door said they talked to him occasionally and he had lived there for at least one year, others in the complex said they had never met him.
“It was a total surprise,” said neighbor Rafaela Medina Viltre in Spanish. “We would chat sometimes outside, but mostly he was quiet and serious.”
Viltre lives with her sister Belkis Medina, and they both have children. The sisters checked with their kids upon hearing the news, and they all said they had never interacted with the coach.
“There were a few times where we saw a bunch of kids at his place, and then we saw just one kid a couple of times,” Viltre said. “But you know, at the time, we thought it wasn’t that strange. We knew he was a soccer coach, so it didn’t seem all that out of the ordinary.”
As of Friday, Metro Police Officer Jose Hernandez said there were no new updates or victims to report in the case.
“At this point detectives are continuing to work the case, and they are looking for any other victims,” Hernandez said. “When you are investigating a case like this, with the potential for multiple victims, you have to methodically go through the case and make contact with various people who knew him or who had kids that played for him. It’s the type of case that will take some time by its very nature.”
Villanueva said that Juarez’s team had been in the Las Vegas Valley Soccer League for only a few months, but that Juarez also had teams in the Latin Youth Soccer League.
Rosa Araza, who sells snacks and drinks during Latin Youth Soccer League games and is the wife of league director Juan Araza, said Juarez previously ran two teams in the league but most recently coached only one. With approximately 20 kids per team, Juarez had been coaching anywhere from 30 to 40 different kids at a time for at least the past two to three years, Araza said.
“I never noticed anything strange about him,” she said in Spanish. “We were surprised like everyone. He would stand here in the shade after games talking soccer like everybody else.”
The Nevada Youth Soccer Association is affiliated with the US Youth Soccer Association, and as a rule conducts background checks of every coach in the its seven leagues. Despite some early confusion related to a team with a similar name, Juarez never coached in any of the association’s leagues, according to President Angie Eliason.
“There are a couple hundred leagues in the state,” Eliason said. “Most have no affiliation and are independent. There isn’t any accountability, and parents really need to ask questions and understand what precautions are being taken to make sure the coaches are responsible and of good character. Before signing up your kid, parents should know who the parent organization for the league is and what that organization’s regulations are … And if there is no parent organization, they need to know what that league’s rules are and if they may be potentially putting kids at risk.”
Enrique Medina, whose 10-year-old son plays in the Latin Youth Soccer League, said that parents have to take more responsibility for supervising their children.
“I’m here for every practice and every game,” said Medina (no relation to Belkis and Rafaela). “I’ve known the coach for, like, six or eight years, and I’m here so I know what’s going on. A lot of parents just see this as babysitting; they drop their kids off and leave. I think I’ve met the parents of four other kids on my son’s team; the rest are never here.”
Medina said many of the leagues with stricter regulations for hiring are much more expensive to join, which can lead to difficult choices for parents. Regardless, he said, it was time for the Latin Youth Soccer League to institute background checks and put coaches through a more rigorous application process.
Hernandez said Metro Police have not found any previous criminal history for Juarez, and background checks need to be combined with the vigilance of parents and league officials.
Just days after Juarez was arrested, Clark County School District Police arrested a Silverado High School softball coach who is accused of having sexual relations with a player. In 2009, a different private club soccer coach was arrested for having a relationship with a 15-year-old female player, and he later pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory sexual seduction. In 2010, a Boulder City middle school teacher and youth soccer coach pleaded guilty to several charges including lewdness, sexual assault and production of pornography, all involving a child under the age of 14.
“As parents, you have to be careful,” Hernandez said. “This isn’t just soccer coaches, it can be anything: Cub Scouts, softball, whatever group. It’s up to the parents to be careful, and when they start to sign kids up for things, they need to know personally who the coach is. Parents should be careful with how much time they spend away from their kids, and they have to be vigilant. Let them know they can come to you if they need anything, and build confidence between yourself and your child so they feel comfortable coming to you.”
Villanueva and Las Vegas Valley Soccer League director Cristobal Mendez said they were shaken by the news, and are in the process of organizing a league-wide meeting for players, parents and coaches to discuss the incidents and future precautions that should be taken.
“We have to do something,” Villanueva said. “For the minority of coaches that we don’t have better information on, we need to know where they come from, how many years they’ve been in soccer and what their history is. We will go through all the coaches we have now, and we will start background checks.”
Juarez remains in custody. His bail was set at $240,000.