As his Hialeah sugar company burned through cash and failed to pay employees, vendors, and landlords, Alexander I. Perez gave plum jobs to former drug-trafficker buddies and raised bundles of cash for Danilo Medina, president of the Dominican Republic.
Two weeks ago, Perez's Banah Sugar filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, reporting it owed between $1 million and $10 million to a list of 232 people and companies in its February 21 filing. It was a sour turn for a company that received special favors from local politicians.
Last year, they renamed a portion of SE Tenth Avenue in Hialeah "Banah Sweet Way" and approved $400,000 in tax breaks if Banah created 300 jobs by 2014. Leaders including Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez gave Perez the royal treatment despite his criminal past and a long trail of litigation against him, including a recent four-year prison stint for cocaine trafficking.
Now, Banana Republican has learned that Perez gave lucrative six-figure salaries to other convicted felons who served time for coke dealing. Banah operations manager Manuel Arisso, logistics director Jorge Fernandez, and purchasing manager Orlando Lorenzo are three of the ex-traffickers Perez brought on board, according to company emails and interviews with a half-dozen former employees.
Arisso, Fernandez, and Lorenzo were convicted in the late '90s for their roles in the cocaine ring run by Sal Magluta and Willy Falcon, two infamous Cuban-American dopers currently serving a life term and a 20-year sentence, respectively. In September, when Banah CEO Diego Leiva quit, Perez brought in Yurek Vazquez, who has a 2000 felony conviction for intent to distribute more than five kilos of yeyo. Vazquez is Banah's executive director.
What's more, ex-employees who asked for anonymity over fear of reprisal from Perez provided Riptide with photographs and emails confirming Perez hosted a fundraiser for President Medina at the swanky Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne in August that raised thousands of dollars. Medina made several visits to Banah's offices to meet with Perez. "Yet some of my colleagues ended up in the street because he wouldn't pay us," says one of the former employees.
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Perez says he hired the ex-cons because he wanted to afford them a chance to have legitimate jobs and because he can rely on them. "These are the people I can trust," he says. "How can I discriminate against people who have gone through the same thing I've gone through?"
Perez adds he raised money for Medina because Banah exports sugar from the Dominican Republic and he wanted to maintain a good relationship with that country's government. "It didn't have anything to do with politics," Perez says. "It was just a business decision."
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.