The Lynching of Julio Robaina: The Facts About Hialeah's Former Mayor, the Case Against Him, and How the Herald Dropped the Ball
In 1992 I fell in love con una jevita named Donita. She was a beautiful gringita with purple hair and no culo, who liked to play guitar and sing about shit I had little understanding about mostly because, at the time, I only had ESOL Level 2. Here's a picture of me in '92 after playing a show with my band Este Huevo Quiere Sal at Churchill's in Little Haiti.
Donita went on to gain success as the lead singer of a band called L7, but one of the things I remember her saying to me during our short-lived relationship was "Papi, the masses are asses," to which I always replied, "Tranquila mami, esas nalguitas estan bastante buena como estan, que coño masa ni masa?" Needless to say, we broke up, as did my band, but my English got better, and a couple of years later L7 released a song with the title "The Masses Are Asses," and I had a catharsis. Turns out she wasn't self-conscious about not having un buen par de nalgas at all, but rather trying to teach me a little something about how she felt the media treats us all. Taking important issues and reducing them to simplistic blurbs to gain attention, sway opinion, and, at times, maliciously destroy reputations.
I was reminded of Donita this past Tuesday as I sipped on my morning coladita and read the front page of the Miami Herald, where one of the stories was on former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina. The headline boldly read, "Secret Cash Was for Mistres." Under that, in bold text, it continued, "Feds: Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina took cash payments to keep his wife from knowing he was spending it on mistress."
I was shocked and intrigued by the story because (1) I wear my Hialeah roots proudly, and (2) I always admired Robaina for having converted José Martí Park on 29th Street in Hialeah from un parque ratchetero filled with gangeritos y delinquentes into a full-service community center complete with a library, a tutoring center, and a recreational boxing program for misdirected youth. Naturally, it was equally disconcerting that Robaina is a very prominent Cuban-American political figure making front-page news in what seemed to be un tremendo scandal. My initial reaction began with ME CAGO EN SU MADRE! Why? Well, because I was under the impression from the headline and subheadline that Robina was stealing cash from Hialeah to finance un tarro on Okeechobee Road.
A Subtle Bent On Deconstruction By Cliff Burgess
TicketsWed., May. 11, 7:30pm
Rupaul's Drag Race: Battle Of The Seasons
TicketsWed., May. 11, 9:00pm
Spin Moves by Ken Weitzman
TicketsThu., May. 12, 7:30pm
Sing the Body Electric by Michael Hollinger
TicketsFri., May. 13, 7:30pm
22 Seconds by Michele Lowe
TicketsSat., May. 14, 3:00pm
As I read on, I realized that none of this shit was even close to touching upon what the story was actually about. I became even more intrigued by the comments people were leaving on the story and others like it, and again, Donita's voice echoed in my felt head. This time she said, "They think you're too stupid to understand the facts, papo, so it has to be about pingaso, billete y tarro!" (Admittedly, Donita's Spanish improved exponentially when I would fantasize about her.)
People commented on the story by saying things like:
And this bombastic fucking assertion:
Now, I want to be clear when I say that none of this was ever expressed in any of the stories I read in the Herald or any other publication that covered the story, for that matter, but rather was implied by a number of readers who had read the articles and were emotionally motivated enough to take the time to comment. Meanwhile, the story has absolutely nothing to do with Robaina's performance as mayor; rather, it's literally about the IRS coming after him for allegedly not filling out his taxes correctly -- more specific, not reporting as income some interest he allegedly received on a loan he made as a private citizen on his taxes. The problem I had with all of this is that the Herald didn't take a second to quell any of this slander.
Far be it for me to come to the aid of a politician, but when it comes to ruining the reputation of a man who has not been found guilty of anything who is getting the absolute shit kicked out of him publicly for not correctly filling out his taxes, I felt the need to at least say something in his defense.
For the past 24 hours, I've been obsessed with looking up every single fact I could find on the case, and in my research, I can honestly say that from the facts that the Herald and other media outlets have presented, I don't actually see a "scandal" here. Unless the "scandal" is the mierdero facts the prosecutors of the case are presenting and are thus being reported on. No reasonable examination of the facts would support any kind of prosecution.
Instead of reporting the facts with the critical analysis they deserve, minus the sensationalist headlines, the Herald is behaving like a cheerleader for the prosecution in its front-page post about Robiana -- effectively swaying the casual reader into thinking the guy is el singao mas grande de Miami.
By doing this, it places a heavy thumb on the scales of justice and assists the prosecution in a sordid attempt to assassinate Robaina's character. Given that the facts weigh heavily against the prosecution, perhaps poisoning public opinion and the potential jury pool against Mr. Robaina can help yield a conviction.
So what are the facts? Bueno, let's break it down, and you weigh them for yourself:
THE KNOWN FACTS
- Julio Robaina was the successful mayor of the great city of Hialeah. La ciudad que progresa, cojones!
- He served in prominent roles in several state and local elections.
- Before becoming mayor, Robaina was a successful real estate developer who made a significant amount of money.
- A well-known Hialeah businessman named Rolando Blanco introduced Robaina and other investors to a "business man" named Felipito, who supposedly had a growing jewelry business. Blanco "vouched" for Felipito, and like any business referral, it comforted investors enough to hear the guy out and invest money with him.
- Robaina lent $750,000 to Felipito
- Felipito turned out to be a Ponzi schemer y tremendo hijo de puta who stole Robaina's money along with $40 million from other unwitting investor victims and thus was convicted and jailed for the crime.
- Currently in jail serving a lengthy sentence, Felipito claimed he had been making secret cash payments back to Robaina as additional interest on the loan.
- Felipito stated, however, that he had never actually handed any cash back to Robaina. Instead, he claimed he delivered cash-stuffed envelopes to Rolando Blanco (the guy who vouched for Felipito in the first place) who in turn forwarded them to Robaina because Felipito scribbled the initials "JR" on them.
- Rolando Blanco Sr. died in 2007 before making any direct statements in this case, but after Blanco Sr.'s death, Felipito claims he continued to deliver cash envelopes each month to Rolando's son, Robertico. If we believe Felipito's account, he delivered a total of $300,000 to Rolando Blanco and Robertico.
- The IRS decided to believe el muy descarado de Felipito and went to see Robertico about Felipito's claims.
- Robertico claimed he never kept any of the cash for himself but instead gave it to Robaina. Of course, this is entirely believable because common criminals always forward untraceable cash-filled envelopes with the initials "JR" scribbled on them to former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and not for example, to J.R. Ewing of the hit TV show Dallas, or perhaps one half of the Polish-Cuban reggaeton group Sarin y Junior, or maybe even un balserito en Hialeah named "Yunior" con un complejo de ser gringo.
- The IRS fully believed that Robertico did not keep the money himself and granted him immunity from joining Felipito in jail in exchange for his agreement to testify against Robaina.
- Based on the reported news to date, we're to believe that the prosecutors have a rock solid case resting on the testimony of Felipito, un ladron singao looking for a ticket out jail, and Robertico, a guy looking to avoid jail time who admits to having received cash-stuffed envelopes.
And that's it. That's the totality of the evidence that has been published to date.
Now, I don't want to appear cynical, but given the above released facts, this sounds like tremendo mojon con pelo of a case, but then again, I got my law degree from the University of No Comas Tanta Mierda, and it's still pending national accreditation. Either way, presented with these facts, I think normal, rational people would typically react by saying that Robaina is being served tremendo pan con pinga without the courtesy of a slice of bread.
Most reasonable people would assume that any payments Felipito made to Blanco were what is most commonly referred to as a "commission." Blanco, after all, delivered big clients to Felipito.
If the IRS and the prosecution are fully aware of this fact, they must have also come to the obvious realization that they have una paja mental for a case. And if this is indeed so, they deserve to lose the case summarily.
My problem is that none of this has been the headline on the front page of ni cojones but rather has given way to sensationalist assertions akin to "Robaina Es Tremendo Pega Tarro Singao." When did it become acceptable for the media to abandon all sense of balance and fairness? As a member of the media (as modest as my presence may be) and a voice of my local community, I think it behooves me to, at the very least, take into account the power my voice could have in unfairly destroying a man's reputation.
Moreover, I think it is the Herald's responsibility and duty to protect the citizens of the community it services from overzealous prosecutors and sensationalist accusations. Like it or not, pipo, there's not much standing between the average comemierda on the street and a runaway throng of jack-booted government types repartiendo pata por culo and taking no prisoners. We only have our votes, the courts, a few sensible politicians, and the media to protect us.
I'm not suggesting the Herald should switch headlines to suggesting the IRS's actions are shady or motivated by some ulterior rationale. There is no basis for that, is there? It's not like the IRS has done anything unethically underhanded in the recent past, correct?
Either way, I implore the Herald to please take into account the weight its influence has in this city and to tread lightly when writing about this case and others like it. This is a man's reputation we are dealing with. And we're not talking about some comemierda from casa del carajo whom no one knows, but rather a local with a long history of service to the community with family members who will feel the repercussions that result from a lack of prudence in reporting long after the case is gone and forgotten.
Maybe if I had ESOL Level 3 when Dorita and I were dating, things would have worked out differently. Maybe I would have done more to keep Este Huevo Quiere Sal together. Maybe we could have been the Cuban Alice in Chains and I would be at South by Southwest cojiendo tremenda nota con un par de roqueras putonas instead of here in the South by Southwesera trying to defend un politico de Hialeah from character assassination, but I'm glad things turned out the way they did, (1) because I don't believe "the masses are asses," and I get to write shit like this to prove it, and (2) because me meti a raperro, and in the long run, that shit turned out to be more profitable anyway. At the very least, I am very thankful for that brief moment of clarity I had early on in my career to accept an endorsement deal from a tax company, porque caballero, con el Tio Pepe no se mete, pero si te la mete el Tio Sam, te cagaste en tu madre.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.