Bert’s testimony comes more than three years after he and his daughter were ordered by a Miami-Dade jury to pay the financial award to the survivors of a woman who was killed in a head-on collision more than a decade ago.
At the 2009 trial, Lewis and Tein represented Billie, the driver who killed Liliana Bermudez, 30, on the Tamiami Trail, and Bert, who owned her uninsured Acura Legend. The defendants admitted fault at trial, so the jury only decided damages. Ever since, the victim’s husband, Carlos Bermudez, a local truck driver, and their teen-age son, Mathew, have futilely tried to collect the judgment.
Both Bert and his daughter have insisted they have no money of their own to pay the award. Each collected $160,000 a year — like hundreds of other Miccosukees — from the tribe’s profitable gambling operation at the west Miami-Dade casino.
The perjury allegations surfaced last year after the Bermudez family’s lawyer, Rodriguez, accused both attorneys and their clients of lying when they asserted the Miccosukee Tribe did not foot their huge legal bill. Rodriguez had obtained 61 checks totaling $3.1 million — made out by the tribe to the Lewis Tein law firm — to back up his allegations.
During a prior sanctions hearing in August 2011, Tein swore to Dresnick, the judge, that their two tribal clients, Billie and Bert, paid their legal bills.
Early last year, both clients submitted court affidavits asserting they had paid Lewis and Tein’s legal fees — a claim now denied by Bert in his recent deposition under oath and in his new sworn statement. Bert said his January 2011 affidavit was prepared by attorneys with the Lewis Tein law firm, and that it was not translated or interpreted for him. As a result, Bert said he did not understand the prior affidavit, according to the statement given to his lawyer, Herrera, last week.
“Now, is it fair to say that you did not understand what you were signing when you signed this affidavit?” Herrera asked his client.
Bert replied: “Yes.”
His daughter also signed an affidavit in October 2011 to back up Lewis’s and Tein’s claim that she and her father borrowed money from the Miccosukees to pay their legal bills.
The fallout from the Bermudez wrongful-death case has not only led to the perjury complaint, but also to state malpractice and federal racketeering suits filed by the Miccosukees against Lewis, Tein, former tribe chairman Billy Cypress and others.
The Miccosukees claim Lewis and Tein were paid a total of nearly $11 million for mostly “fictitious” legal work authorized by the tribe’s former longtime chairman, Billy Cypress, who was personally represented by the two lawyers.
The tribe has also sued Cypress, accusing him of stealing $26 million by blowing tribal money on trips to Las Vegas, chartering private jets, splurging on upscale restaurants, and buying real estate.
In the perjury dispute, Cypress has stood by Lewis and Tein, saying in an affidavit that Bille and Bert were “responsible” for their legal fees and that he “directed the tribe to write checks to pay” for their defense. Cypress swore those payments were “charged against” the clients’ gambling distributions or charged as “loans” against their “future distributions.”
But in a deposition taken this month, Cypress said he was unaware of his sworn statement regarding the specifics of the tribe’s loan agreement with Lewis and Tein’s clients. “That I didn’t know,” Cypress testified in mid-November.
And when asked whether the Miccosukee defendants ever repaid the tribe, Cypress replied: “I believe not at this point in time. ... I don’t know.”