By the time he arrived on the Homestead scene, he had already opened four Dade Medical campuses in Florida. As his for-profit technical college expanded, Perez used the proceeds to shower hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions on local, state and federal politicians. And he also raised the colleges profile by partnering with public schools and sponsoring charitable causes, such as the American Heart Association.
Perez wowed Homestead officials with his new plan for a 25,000-square-foot university campus, parking garage and retail stores on the CRA land near Krome. To make his vision a reality, last year Dade Medical acquired the University of Southernmost Florida, an accredited four-year school based in Jacksonville.
Bateman described the plan to The Herald as a Little Georgetown. When asked about that description, Perez smiled and said his colleges are meant for working-class minorities.
Perez, who did not attend college, said he took a nontraditional path to becoming a corporate CEO. In his early 20s, he played in a heavy metal band, the Young Turks, whose rise was halted in 1990 by a sexual assault incident involving group members and a 15-year-old fan after a concert in Wisconsin. Perez eventually pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to several months behind bars.
He bristled at the mention of this incident by Herald reporters, dismissing its relevance to Dade Medicals business with the Homestead CRA. But in CRA board meetings, Perez was selling himself as much as his chain of colleges.
Dade Medicals top executive scoffed at the notion of any conflicts of interest between the mayor, his wife and the colleges real estate dealings.
He defended the Homestead mayor and his wife as passionate boosters for their community, which has been transitioning for years from a rural farming outpost to a sunbelt suburb.
I consider the mayor a friend, Perez said at his corporate office in downtown Coral Gables, adding that he came to know him after he was elected in 2009. Hes done great things for the city.
As for the mayors wife, she works as a consultant for us, identifying properties for Dade Medical to buy. Among them: the former McCrory five & dime store and the property housing Luckys Pub & Grill on Krome Avenue. She also helped Perezs bid to purchase the shuttered Edison Furniture building. Its for sale, but Im not giving it away, said owner Steven Stembridge, who turned down Batemans offer for the storefront.
Perez questioned why anyone would care about what he considers to be nitpicking ethical issues.
Anybody who thinks this has anything to do with one thing or another is just looking for stuff, he said.
If theres a criminal investigation, I hope they have a lot more than my friendship with the mayor, he added, because theres nothing there.
But then Perez said: To tell you the truth, I could walk away from this deal.
Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.