Federal court

Former Hialeah Mayor Robaina and wife released on bond in tax-evasion case

 

Ex-Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and his wife have to surrender their passports and limit travel while awaiting trial on tax-evasion charges.

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and his wife, Raiza, wore shackles on their ankles and wrists as a federal magistrate judge granted them bail Friday, after the couple surrendered on charges of evading taxes on potentially millions of dollars in unreported income.

Robaina was granted a $250,000 personal surety bond co-signed by his wife, and she was given a $100,000 bond co-signed by him. The couple, who told the judge that they understood the charges against them, will be arraigned next Friday.

They also were ordered to turn over their passports, and to limit their travel to South and Central Florida, where their son attends college.

“We will have our day in court soon, and we will prove our innocence,’’ Robaina said afterward outside the federal courthouse, alongside his wife and attorney, David Garvin.

“Today is not a day to talk about the merits of the case, but there will be a time very soon when we will prove there are no merits to the IRS case.”

If convicted, the Robainas each face up to five years in prison.

A federal grand jury indicted Robaina, 48, and his wife, 39, Thursday on charges of failing to report receiving cash payments on sky-high interest loans totaling more than $1 million, and other business income. Both are also charged with lying to federal agents about Robaina’s involvement in his wife’s two lending businesses, and he alone was charged with lying about receiving the undisclosed cash.

The couple are accused of receiving the cash as interest on personal loans they made to friends, including convicted Ponzi schemer Luis Felipe Perez, who borrowed $750,000 at what he says was a 36 percent interest rate.

The loans were doled out as part of an informal banking system operating below the radar in Hialeah.

The main conspiracy charge in the indictment, filed by prosecutor Richard Gregorie, accuses the Robainas of overstating losses on their businesses and understating gains on their personal income between 2005 and 2007.

Robaina allegedly directed a person identified as “R.V.” to pay $300,000 to his business, Realty USA, for “services rendered” in November 2005.

That same year, Robaina “falsely reported” a corporate loss of $87,975, the indictment says. The following year, he “falsely reported” a business loss of $46,733, and in 2007 he “falsely reported” another loss of $10,730, the indictment charges.

In June 2006, Robaina arranged to have a company called P.B.G. Corp. pay $142,431 to Regions Bank to satisfy his loan for a 2001 Ferrari, the indictment says.

That August, Robaina arranged for an attorney to transfer $384,652 to C&M Title, a business owned by Hialeah Council member Vivian Casals-Munoz. He and his wife used the money to buy a Miami Beach condominium, the indictment says.

In 2007, Robaina arranged an “intra-bank transfer” of $800,000 from the account of C.F. Limited Partnership at U.S. Century Bank to a joint personal account for him and his wife at the same bank, according to the indictment.

It further charges that the couple’s reported income swung wildly from a loss of $62,015 in 2006 to a gain of $1,023,672 in 2007, when they knew their “total income was greater than reported” in both years.

In 2010, Robaina’s longtime friend “Felipito” Perez was convicted of directing a $45 million Ponzi scheme that duped dozens of investors and lenders, including Robaina, celebrity hairdresser Samy Suarez, Hialeah Council President Carlos Hernandez, Hialeah Chamber of Commerce head Daniel Hernandez, and Manny Alfonso, a board member of the charity La Liga Contra el Cáncer.

The IRS began investigating Robaina’s finances while authorities were making their case against Perez, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Under federal law, if a person receives an interest payment on a loan, that income must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service and it may be subject to taxes.

Perez, who cooperated with prosecutors as part of a plea agreement and hopes to receive a sentence reduction, maintains that he paid Robaina a combined interest rate of 36 percent. Perez said half the payments were made in checks and the other half in cash, until he ran out of money in 2009.

He said he directed his drivers to deliver the cash in envelopes — with the mayor’s name or initials written on them — to the home of the late Rolando Blanco, their mutual friend who had matched them up.

Perez’s attorney, Alvin Entin, said the information his client provided to prosecutors “makes it abundantly clear he was telling the truth about his relationship with the Hialeah mayor.”

Blanco’s son, Roberto, testified about the alleged payoff arrangement before a federal grand jury in Miami in 2011, according to sources. Roberto Blanco, who also borrowed money from Robaina, received immunity from prosecution, the sources said.

The Robaina companies — RVR Holdings and MR Holdings — sued delinquent borrowers such as Perez, Blanco and others from 2008-10, seeking about $1.4 million in unpaid principal plus interest. That litigation came under greater scrutiny when Robaina launched his candidacy for Miami-Dade mayor in 2011. He lost to Carlos Gimenez.

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