Demetrio's Rules

The world according to public school board member Demetrio Perez includes exile philosophy, Elian propaganda, and old-Havana-school politics.

Quintana, now in her late fifties, has three children. In April 1995 she qualified for low-cost Section 8 housing, a federal rental-assistance program administered by the county. Once the Metro-Dade Housing Agency accepted her into the Section 8 program, at least half of her rent was paid directly to her landlord, Perez. Quintana was responsible for the remainder.

Some three years after she first qualified for Section 8, Quintana sued Perez in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, alleging Perez had charged her more than what the county had determined was her share of the rent on the unit. She claims she complied for nearly two years, but when she finally stood up to him, he forced her to leave the apartment. She's suing for the return of the alleged excess money she paid, plus damages from what she says was a wrongful eviction.

According to sworn documents filed in the case, Perez did in fact charge Quintana more than he should have. At the time Quintana joined the Section 8 program, the county set the maximum rental allowed for the unit at $498. The county paid Perez $271; Quintana was responsible for the remaining $227. Yet Perez wrote in a court document that he collected $335 from Quintana that month.

Still flying on June 9, the inverted flag at this Lincoln-Martí School makes Demetrio Perez's politics perfectly clear
Steve Satterwhite
Still flying on June 9, the inverted flag at this Lincoln-Martí School makes Demetrio Perez's politics perfectly clear

The discrepancies continue. The county records show that in May and June of 1995, the program's level of assistance remained at $271; Perez asserts that, in those two months, he collected only $28 from Quintana -- apparently undercharging her by some $200. In July the county both reduced the allowable rent on the unit to $450 and increased its level of subsidy to $422. Quintana's share was supposed to be $28.

From July to November of that year, the county's and Perez's numbers agree. Then, in December 1995, Perez says he collected $325 from Quintana, $297 more than the county-mandated maximum rent for the unit. With the exception of a four-month period, he continued to collect similarly inflated sums until June 1997, at which point Quintana left and moved in with her daughter Hilda.

Comparing the numbers from the county and from Perez, it appears the educator overcharged the unemployed Cuban-American grandmother by $2800 over two years. Migdalia Quintana declined to be interviewed for this story, but her daughter Hilda relates that, for most of this time, her mother hid the overcharges from her own family. When her mother finally began to complain to Perez's employees, Hilda says, those employees responded by harassing Migdalia about the number of cars in the parking lot -- blaming her and her children -- and repeatedly threatening to change the locks on her apartment.

"Mr. Perez is a man that, because he had money and power, took advantage of me," Migdalia Quintana wrote in court documents. "He must be stopped. He is a criminal that hides under a suit."

In an April 2000 deposition, Perez denied any harassment of Quintana and denied that she was forced to leave the apartment. Perez's own records confirm the additional rent charges, but in his sworn testimony taken in this still-pending case, Perez asserted the extra charges were for furniture rental. He said he rented the unit to Quintana furnished, but the extra charge for furniture "doesn't have any relation with this [lease] agreement."

Bernard Goldfarb, Quintana's attorney, asked Perez if the furniture-rental agreement was verbal, and Perez said it was. But the school board member could not remember who made that agreement or how it was determined how much Quintana would pay for the furniture. "It was a long time ago," Perez said.

Hilda Quintana says the furniture-rental argument is "a lie; he just made it up." She says her mother bought the furniture for the apartment herself and brought it with her to the Silver Bluff home she shares with Hilda's family. Attorney Goldfarb notes that, in the previous two years of motions, interrogatories, and pleadings in the case, neither Perez nor his attorneys ever mentioned the overcharges were for furniture. "I don't know where he got that, and my client denies it," he says. "I think anybody reading his deposition would see that he's not real credible on that question."

Goldfarb also points out that the case has proceeded "like molasses," mostly owing to dithering and delaying by Perez and his attorneys. Perez himself was sanctioned and fined $350 for failing to turn over evidence on time. The case is set for a nonjury trial for the week beginning July 10.

When Demetrio Perez first got his show on Radio Mambí in December 1989, he told El Nuevo Herald he didn't want to use his airtime for political purposes, but to "help the Hispanic community with an emphasis on education and social problems." But the lines between his myriad roles are blurred. Where does Demetrio the radio commentator stop and Demetrio the newspaper publisher begin? What about Demetrio the private school owner and Demetrio the school board member? Demetrio the politician and Demetrio the millionaire?

As his May 27 edition of Educación y Comunidad gets rolling, it quickly becomes clear that those lines are so blurry as to be nonexistent. He also doesn't see any line between himself and his listeners. Perez wastes no time referring to himself as "we."

"We also want to give thanks, as we did in yesterday's commentary, through this station, to all of the schools, educational institutions, to all the students, to the parents, to the families, to the employees, to the administrators, and those key people, our teachers, who yesterday responded to the call for community unity in a moment of silent meditation, observed at 11:00 a.m., in different schools here," he drones, in his slow, pedantic delivery. "As you know, we proposed, at the last meeting of our school board, this moment of silent meditation for community unity.

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