Ernesto Perez, founder and president of Dade Medical College, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this month. As the Miami Herald reported June 8, the Miami-Dade State Attorney and the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission are conducting separate probes into why Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman pushed officials to sell Dade Medical College city land at a fraction of its value.
But buried in the Herald piece was a bizarre nugget: Perez had once been the frontman of a local rock band that was at the center of an underage sex scandal. Perez pleaded guilty and spent months in jail, the Herald reported, but the college president "bristled" when reporters brought it up.
So what actually happened? Riptide tracked down the old court case, and it turns out a 15-year-old girl told police that Perez pulled out his penis during a mass sexual assault. Perez didn't respond to multiple messages from Riptide for comment.
The specifics of the case against Perez are spelled out in a 1992 Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling. Perez, who played under the alias "Rhett O'Neill," had been touring the country with his band, Young Turks. After a show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on May 11, 1990, a 15-year-old girl accused Perez and three bandmates of gang-raping her at their motel room.
"During the course of multiple and simultaneous assaults, Perez approached [the victim], removed his penis from his pants, and attempted to have her perform oral intercourse," according to an appeals court summary of the case. "When she refused, Perez put his penis back into his pants and repeatedly struck her buttocks with a belt."
It took law enforcement officials, including the FBI, almost two months to track down the band members in Florida and deliver them to Wisconsin, where they were charged with battery on a child, sexual contact with a child, and party to a crime of sexual contact with a child. In December 1990, Perez pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery and exposing a sex organ to a child. He was sentenced to 90 days in Winnebago County Jail, fined $2,500, and ordered to perform 125 hours of community service.
Nine years later, Perez started his educational enterprise with just 50 pupils. Today, Dade Medical College has campuses in Homestead, Miami, Miami Lakes, Hollywood, West Palm Beach, and Jacksonville; employs more than 500 people; and boasts an enrollment of more than 2,000 students.
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He has enjoyed backing from just about every politico in Florida, from U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia to state legislator Rene Garcia to Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban Bovo. Former Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Perez to the Commission for Independent Education in 2009, and Gov. Rick Scott reappointed him.
Now investigators are probing why Homestead sold downtown land to the college at a steep discount through Bateman's wife, who is a real-estate agent. Batemen also accepted at least fifteen $500 contributions to his 2011 mayoral campaign from Perez and his associates before Dade Medical College bought the land for less than 40 cents on the dollar, the Herald reported. Perez and Bateman have both denied any inappropriate conduct in the deal.