By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
"This scheme involved the falsification of Miami Herald invoices by whiting out and inflating the true cost of the advertisement and submitting these false documents to the vendors for reimbursement," the prosecutors wrote, alleging that the fraud took place from 1984 until 1992. For several years, prosecutors claimed, the swindle became highly sophisticated. "Instead of taking the time to white out the invoices, copy them, and then send them to the vendors, Perlman went to various small printing operations over the years and had the stationery of the Miami Herald Publishing Company, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and the Palm Beach Post fraudulently printed for BrandsMart's use. "The employees at BrandsMart would feed this blank stationery into their computers at BrandsMart to automatically produce fake invoices to send to vendors, with the amounts of the cost more than doubled at times."
Robert Perlman was never charged in connection with the alleged advertising fraud, and his attorneys deny that their client ever falsified any newspaper invoices. Copies of the purportedly bogus invoices, however, were also included in the court file.
BrandsMart's use of the Miami Herald's name to allegedly rip off various companies makes the newspaper's recent fawning coverage of the store even more embarrassing.
"How much BrandsMart spends on advertising should not be relevant to how we cover them," says another reporter. "My concern is that if other retailers realize what BrandsMart has been able to get away with, then they are going to try to do the same thing and try to dictate how we cover them. I've got to think that Clifton isn't interested in giving away his news hole like this on a regular basis," says the staffer. "At least I've got to hope he doesn't."
Clifton stands by his decision to have a story written about the opening of a new BrandsMart, calling it a "standard business profile." And he dismisses the notion that the Herald wrote that story because of all the money BrandsMart spends on advertising. "The Miami Herald did not take a dive for BrandsMart," he says.
If they did, though, the Herald may not have been the only paper on the canvas. As several Herald staffers noted, a similar BrandsMart story ran on the same day in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. "Somehow this store opening was so important that the Sun-Sentinel's business editor wrote the piece," a Herald reporter says sarcastically, adding that the Sun-Sentinel story also refrained from mentioning Robert Perlman's tax troubles.