Alexander I. Perez, a would-be sugar baron in Hialeah, has been a media darling at 1 Herald Plaza. In February, El Nuevo Herald featured Banah International Group's new $32 million, 300,000-square-foot warehouse. Last week, the Miami Herald's Business Monday chimed in with a mostly positive profile.
County politicians love him too. Mayor Carlos Gimenez helped him get $400,000 in tax breaks, and the commission even named a street after his company.
But all the praise glosses over some key details — namely, that Perez is a convicted cocaine trafficker who faces a spate of lawsuits that raise serious doubts about Banah's ability to deliver on its promises to bring hundreds of new jobs to Hialeah.
"Had our office been aware of the issues in Mr. Perez's past, he certainly would not have received a congressional certificate," says Leslie Veiga, a spokeswoman for Rep. David Rivera, who gave the mogul a certificate last October.
A simple search of court records is all it takes to show that the 48-year-old Perez was released from federal prison in 2007 after a four-year term for conspiring to sell six kilos in 1999.
After his release, Perez — who declined multiple requests for comment — announced plans to open Banah at a Doral warehouse, requesting tax incentives through the Beacon Council. In December 2011, commissioners approved Gimenez's recommendation to grant the tax breaks.
Gimenez says he was unaware of Perez's record and relied on the Beacon Council. His spokeswoman, Suzy Trutie, declined to comment about whether the past conviction would have changed the mayor's mind.
"I don't want to talk hypotheticals," she says. "The Beacon Council did the due diligence. Nothing came up." (Perez later thanked Gimenez by donating $500 through Banah to his re-election campaign.)
But it's not just Perez's old record that should concern politicians. His company faces multiple lawsuits as well. First, the firm's former Doral landlord claimed Perez bailed on his lease before moving to Hialeah. In a lawsuit filed May 29, CV Miami says Banah owed $139,000. (Both companies recently settled out of court.)
Three other lawsuits are pending:
• Former CEO Sergio Gonzalez accused Perez of stiffing him on his $200,000 salary in a lawsuit filed April 5.
• All-American Containers, a Miami company that supplied Banah, sued Perez and his firm June 6 for $183,478 in unpaid merchandise.
• In July, New York-based Sterling National Bank sued Perez and Banah for payroll capital worth $327,623 that hasn't been paid back.
Miguel Ferro, a Banah spokesman, declined to comment on the litigation. Gimenez's spokeswoman, meanwhile, says the lawsuits change nothing about the county's support. "The issue is moot," Trutie says, "since the incentives were already approved."