Breach of Faith

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Undeniably, the story of Radio Fe's demise involves a labyrinth of strange misfortunes that weaves inextricably through the Cuban exile community. To Milian and his family, though, there are no ambiguities: They don't hesitate to speak out about the injustices they believe they have suffered, and they are bitter to this day.

Early December 1992: As hard as it was to believe, everything was unravelling again. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sidney Weaver had called an emergency hearing in the Radio Fe case. Emilio Milian had been fighting for more than a year to keep his 50,000-watt station on the air. He had filed for Chapter 11 protection in August 1991, after failing to meet Barnett Bank's deadline for paying off a $500,000 line of credit. The judge had already granted several extensions to allow Milian to find investors to keep the station out of Chapter 7, which would have meant liquidation of all assets. But the search for financing had finally looked promising a few weeks earlier, when a man named Fausto Losana Pelaez had handed Milian a check for three million dollars.

Losana Pelaez, a kindly looking, slightly jowly man who said he was a physician from Argentina but who was not licensed to practice medicine in Florida, had a morning show on WWFE, the main purpose of which was to inform the public about the healing powers of a healthy diet and various substances produced by honeybees. He offered the latter for sale, having ostensibly obtained them from his apiary in the Dominican Republic.

One Monday when the bee show was over, Milian recalls, he and son Emilio III, the station's vice president of sales, invited Losana Pelaez into his office. "We asked him if he knew people to invest," Milian recalls. "He said, 'I have money. I'll be your investor.' I asked him if he knew anyone else who could invest. He said, 'No, no no, you and me only. I have three million dollars.' Immediately he wrote a check for three million dollars." All that remained to close the deal, Losana Pelaez said, was for him to liquidate some certificates of deposit in Swiss banks.

Then unsettling things began to happen, and the Milians began to wonder whether the Argentinian was being pressured because he had agreed to help them. Losana Pelaez claimed his office had been vandalized and that his mother had received threatening phone calls. And he testified during a court hearing that he'd received a late-night call from his lawyer informing him that the Swiss funds had been "frozen by the Justice Department." He needed more time to produce the money, said Losana Pelaez. Soon afterward, he became impossible to locate. Radio Fe aired taped shows during his morning time slot. The Milians heard he was in Europe, then he was rumored to be in Mexico. At the emergency hearing in early December, his attorney, obviously perplexed, arose. "I don't know where my client is right now, but the last time I spoke with him, he told me he was still totally committed to buying the station," the lawyer announced, adding helpfully, "He's already spent thousands of dollars in legal fees."

That was the last the court heard about Losana Pelaez's bid to buy WWFE. But at that same hearing, another would-be investor appeared. Saying she had read about the plight of Radio Fe and wanted to preserve free expression, Patricia Franco, a woman of middle age given to expensive outfits, produced a check for $2.7 million and a letter from Citibank advising that the money was being wired from Costa Rica to New York, and thence to the bank's Miami branch.

Milian and his son showed up at the downtown Miami offices of a Citibank branch at eight o'clock the following morning. "The bank wrote a letter telling us the money was on its way, and once it cleared they would issue us a cashier's check," Emilio Milian III recounts. "They had an office we were using while we were there. We had coffee; calls were patched in. We'd wait for several hours, the money wouldn't arrive, and we'd come back the next morning. Every time we went, we got the red-carpet treatment. A bank of that reputation telling you something -- you're going to believe it. I don't think they ever told us the money was not coming through. It just never came. Patricia Franco pretended to be mystified as to why the funds weren't cleared."

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Kathy Glasgow
Contact: Kathy Glasgow