Lawsuits

Virginia Key Employee Stunned by Criminal Charge Over Code Violation

Protesters outside Miami City Hall called for the return of the Virginia Key Outdoor Center and an end to plans for a homeless "tiny house" project on the island.
Protesters outside Miami City Hall called for the return of the Virginia Key Outdoor Center and an end to plans for a homeless "tiny house" project on the island. Photo by Joshua Ceballos
After the closing of the Virginia Key Outdoor Center this past August, 17 center employees were abruptly left without a job, including former marketing and operations director Diana Perez-Pazos. With the wounds of that loss still fresh, Perez is now facing a criminal charge over a commercial code violation that was not her responsibility, according to her attorney. 

"August 12 will be a day I will never forget. I was greeted by seven police officers and two code enforcement officers while we had summer camp in full swing," Perez said during public comment at a city commission meeting on September 13. "I am now being charged with a misdemeanor because I was just working at the outdoor center and the police just happened to come."

Perez recounted to commissioners that police officers on the scene during the outdoor center shutdown asked for the manager of the business, Esther Alonso, who was not present when they arrived. Because Alonso wasn't there, police allegedly asked Perez for her ID for record-keeping purposes, and she obliged.

Shortly afterward, police handed Perez an affidavit on a charge for running a business without a business tax receipt — a code violation issued against the outdoor center.

"I was told that in the city of Miami it is a criminal offense not to have one of these permits, and since I was the one responsible at the time of the shift, I would be the one the arrest affidavit would be served to," she said during the meeting.

Under City of Miami code, operating an establishment without a business tax receipt is considered a misdemeanor punishable by 60 days imprisonment and a $500 fine per day while the violation continues.

The city contends that Virginia Key Outdoor Center did not have a valid business tax receipt or certificate of use.

But Perez's attorney, Henry Marines, tells New Times he expected Miami-Dade County Judge Edward Newman to throw out the charge against his client because she was not the head of the outdoor center. The business was owned and operated by Alonso, and all documentation for the business is in Alonso's name, he says.

"I'm surprised this survived arraignment," Marines tells New Times.

Nevertheless, the case in Miami-Dade County criminal court is moving forward, with a hearing scheduled for November 29.

According to the affidavit, provided to New Times by the Miami Police Department in response to a public records request, the responding officer wrote that Perez identified herself as the person in charge.

"Defendant identified herself as the manager of the business onsite," reads the last sentence of the narrative, which appears to be written in a different shade of pen from the rest of the narrative.

The original documentation given to Perez on August 12, however, does not include that sentence saying Perez identified herself as manager. Marines provided New Times with a carbon copy of the document given to Perez, and it makes no mention of Perez identifying herself as the manager of the Virginia Key Outdoor Center.

Marines would not comment on the apparent discrepancy between the two documents, but says the entire situation seems to be out of the norm.

"It's a little unusual that they would pick an employee and make an arrest but that’s where we seem to be," he says.

It is unclear at this time if Perez's case will go to trial, according to Marines. Perez has time to file motions to dismiss the case, which the judge could grant before November. 
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos

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