Freedom for Sale, Part 2

The federal probe wilts and prosecutors drop the case

It's unclear why the prisoners made the allegations and then retreated. It's possible that the claim of freedom for money simply passed along the jailhouse grapevine, or as Perez would later claim, the convicts conspired to "tarnish" his reputation. Perez wrote, "It is obvious to me that Mr. Lyn Shue [sic] and his associates have created this web of innuendos to harm me in this [Florida Bar] investigation."

Antonio Monroy was frustrated. So on February 21, 2003, he sent a letter to the Florida Bar. "For some unknown and undisclosed reason," he wrote, "the government has failed to prosecute Israel Perez.... Such an individual should not be allowed to continue practising [sic] law and subverting the courts and actively recruiting clients in violating state and federal laws, committing perjury, and obstructing justice."

On May 10, 2003, Perez responded: He was "surprised" to see Antonio's affidavit but wrote, "I guess I can understand the motive," apparently referring to Antonio's desire to get out of jail early. The lawyer recalled that he had first met with Virginia in 1999, and soon told her that he couldn't help her son. Perez claimed he never saw or accepted any other money besides the cash for his travel.

He was apparently unaware of the federal surveillance.

The bar eventually obtained the tapes and transcripts of Perez's conversations with Antonio and Virginia. In April 2006, bar investigator Stephen Kramer reviewed the transcripts and wrote, "Portions of them are extremely detrimental to Perez.... My words cannot adequately substitute for the words that Perez used in his various conversations with Virginia."

In April, Kramer met with Perez, who denied committing a crime. But Perez admitted breaking bar rules in his handling of the Monroy case. After being confronted with the tapes, he laid out a confusing and bizarre scenario in which he was attempting to collect a $100,000 debt for his client by appearing as if he were pursuing a reduction in sentence on behalf of Antonio. "This was my mistake," Perez wrote. Later he claimed, "I became concerned ... that I was not being honest in my actions.... I realized I had fallen into a trap.... As I go to bed every night, I question myself for having acted in such a fashion."

In a subsequent letter, Perez denied the other Miami inmates' allegations. But on July 20, Perez pleaded guilty to violating ethics rules in the Monroy case. On September 14, the Florida Supreme Court agreed he should be disbarred for his conduct. The sanction becomes effective on Halloween.

The question remains as to why Perez was never charged — or even arrested — in connection with the scheme he was heard plotting on tape. And the public might never know whether there were indeed federal agents willing to sell their testimony. There is a history of badges for sale in Miami. Back in the 1980s a DEA intelligence agent was indicted for allegedly selling information to people targeted in investigations. An FBI agent admitted to taking almost one million dollars in bribes from drug dealers he had been investigating. And more than a dozen local cops have been busted for small-time scams over the years.

It is possible the investigation into Perez is continuing in secret. Federal authorities won't talk about him.

"We don't comment on the existence of any investigation or its progress," says Alicia Valle, special counsel for the Miami U.S. Attorney's Office.

"We can't discuss any cases if there are no charges brought," comments FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela.

Will Antonio Monroy cooperate further? He was released from prison in July but wouldn't speak with New Times. After a brief initial conversation, he didn't answer the phone.

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