Freedom for Sale, Part 1

A lawyer offered convicts reduced sentences for a price

On the evening of July 18, Virginia Monroy and her daughter-in-law Claudia sat in their car in the parking lot of the La Carreta restaurant on North Kendall Drive. It was just after 6:30, and the two were waiting to meet Perez. Virginia was wired for sound and holding $1500 — money provided to her and photocopied by authorities — to pay for Perez's trip to see Antonio in Coleman.

At 7:00, Perez pulled into the parking lot. Virginia and Claudia walked over to his vehicle and piled in. During their conversation, Perez reminded Virginia again she would need to pay him $100,000 when the motion to reduce Antonio's sentence was delivered. According to an FBI report, during the conversation, "Perez told Virginia Monroy that if there is a problem with the payment, someone is going to end up dead."

He added that he would call her once he returned from Coleman. The meeting lasted for just less than twenty minutes.

Four days later, around 2:15 in the afternoon, Israel Perez walked into the federal prison in Coleman. He was led to a bugged interview room to await Antonio. Around 3:15, a prison guard escorted Monroy into the room, and investigators began recording.

During the conversation, Antonio said almost nothing while Perez talked at length about the plan and what could derail it. He began by noting his experience in law and then explained how the process for reducing a defendant's sentence in exchange for cooperation is supposed to work. There would be a "variation" on this one, he explained. A record of Monroy's assistance "will be fabricated" by Perez's DEA contacts.

In several months, Perez said, two DEA agents would arrive at the prison. Monroy should inspect badges to verify names, which Perez said he would provide. They would be there to leave a paper trail as evidence they had talked to Antonio. It didn't matter what they discussed: "You can talk about fucking, that you can't wait to fuck, that — whatever," Perez said with a laugh, according to the FBI transcript. "[You can say] that you can't wait to sniff, smoke ... [have] a joint, to take a prick up your ass," Perez added with another laugh.

In fact Perez said Antonio should be suspicious if the agents asked him for information — because they might be impostors. The lawyer boasted that his two DEA contacts were Americans working out of the Miami field office. One had 24 years on the job, the other 15 years. "They know what they are doing and they have done it many times," Perez told Antonio at one point.

Eventually the agents would approach the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida and say Antonio had been helpful in making cases down in Miami. The prosecutor wouldn't know any better, because South Florida is another jurisdiction, Perez said.

If the U.S. Attorney's Office went along with the DEA agents' recommendation, prosecutors would ask a judge for a reduction in Antonio's sentence. Antonio wouldn't have to testify, speak with prosecutors, or address the judge. "The day they go and talk to the judge and the prosecutor about ... all the things you have done, you know, you may be surprised about all the things they are going to say," Perez said to Antonio. "You're just going to sit there, you know, and, and, you know — that's it."

Perez also warned Antonio that if their agreement was disclosed, he would deny it. And if Antonio didn't pay up, the lawyer said the DEA agents would tell prosecutors he had lied to them. There was a paragraph in Antonio's plea deal that allowed for a longer sentence if he deceived authorities.

"I'm just saying that if you have to eat shit, you'll know why you have to eat shit," Perez said. "So that you don't come to me, [and say], 'Damn, I didn't know.' No, you did know it very well because I am explaining it to you."

There is also a more severe threat hidden in the conversation, in the sometimes vague phrases people use when discussing things that aren't exactly legal. "I hope your mom doesn't come to me crying, because there is no room for explanations," Perez said. "It's not that I'm a bad person; I am a nice guy, but business is business."

Over the next three months, Virginia met with Perez at least six times — twice at her apartment, twice at a Dunkin' Donuts near the corner of Collins Avenue and 68th Street, once at the Los Marinos Cafeteria on 37th Avenue near Flagler, and once at the Mar y Tierra supermarket at Eighth Avenue and NW First Street. At each meeting, the two discussed the execution of Perez's plan. During this time, Virginia became increasingly frantic, saying Antonio was stressed about his jail sentence. And during this time, Perez reportedly became more difficult to reach.

Next week: The federal government's case unravels.

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