Back in 2002, Demetrio Perez Jr. had an epic fall from prominence. The then-Miami-Dade Public Schools Board Member was removed from public office following his 21-count federal indictment that he had been overcharging elderly tenants at his federally subsidized low income apartments in Little Havana for a decade.
He ended up pleading guilty to five federal charges, including mail fraud. He served six months of house arrest, two years of probation and 500 hours of community service, as well as having to pay thousands of dollars in fines, restitution and police investigative costs. But his crimes did nothing to diminish Perez's political clout.
Today, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro will ask his colleagues to issue $110 million in municipal bonds and use the proceeds to provide tax exempt, low interest financing for Perez's private and charter schools business ventures.
Before he got on the school board, Perez was a Miami city commissioner in the 1980s, where he made national headlines in 1982 when he demanded Hollywood filmmakers Oliver Stone and Brian de Palma rewrite their script for Scarface to turn title character Tony Montana into a spy for Fidel Castro because of the film's negative portrayal of Cuban immigrants who came during El Mariel.
According to a resolution on the agenda for today's county commission meeting, the $110 million in bonds would allow the non-profit organization Lincoln-Marti Community Agency Perez founded to, among other things, acquire his private companies DP Real Estate Holdings Inc. and Lincoln-Marti Schools; buy and improve charter schools in Hialeah and Florida City; and fund improvements to existing charter schools he owns.
(Neither the commissioner nor Perez returned messages from Riptide about the proposed bond.)
Perez's Lincoln-Marti schools came under intense scrutiny when he was indicted. According to a Miami Herald investigative report from April 8, 2002, Perez "pocketed more than $1 million in rent payments from public funds that were meant to benefit a program for at-risk children."
More from The Herald article:
His overall wealth doubled while he served on the School Board, with his net worth growing from $2.4 million in 1997 to $4.9 million three years later. Pérez has a vast real-estate empire, and many of his properties house Lincoln-Marti Community Agency centers or his for-profit Lincoln-Marti schools. The Lincoln-Marti Community Agency was founded in 1990, and Pérez was its first president. The not-for-profit is separate from Pérez 's private Lincoln-Marti schools, and it was established as a dropout prevention program for at-risk children. The group first won money from the School Board before Pérez joined the board in November 1996.
After his election, the amount granted to his and other agencies shot up. Lincoln-Marti's annual funding nearly tripled, to about $900,000 in 1998, funding prevention programs for 160 students annually. In all, the school district paid nearly $3 million to the Lincoln-Marti Community Agency while Pérez served on the School Board.
The rent amount shot up dramatically the next two years. In 1999, the rent bill was $536,073 - nearly a 100-fold increase. In 2000, it was $546,357.
But then, a few weeks after receiving The Herald's letter, Pérez transferred ownership of virtually all of his real-estate empire from himself or one of his companies to a private limited liability company he had earlier formed - DP Real Estate Holdings LLC.
In a single day in February, while Pérez was under house arrest, he filled out paperwork transferring more than 40 parcels - from Homestead to Little Havana to Hialeah - to DP Real Estate, of which he is president.
The papers were filed at the courthouse days later, on Feb. 14.
Title to the community agency's headquarters and nearby offices went from Pérez 's name to the limited liability company's. Other community agency centers and private schools operated by Pérez did, too.
At his December 2002 sentencing, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages had this to say about Perez's criminal acts against his tenants:
And how, notwithstanding being so wealthy ... he saw fit to cheat these women out of this sum of money, which for him was really nothing, and which for them, no doubt, was very great. And that for me calls into question who Mr. Pérez really is and what motivates him.
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Apparently, Barreiro has a short term memory. Thankfully, the bonds are nothing like the ones issued for the Marlins ballpark, which are backed by taxpayer monies.
However, Perez still benefits from the tax-exempt, low interest financing not available in the private sector.