In addition to employing politicians, Perez has been a big political donor. He has contributed at least $170,000 to various local, state, and national races — including writing checks to multiple candidates in the same race, according to campaign finance records.
At local city halls and in the power corridors of Tallahassee, Perez received the star treatment. Fresen, the Miami lawmaker, personally introduced him to Homestead city officials — even though Fresen’s district doesn’t include Homestead. The town of Miami Lakes granted a zoning approval for a new campus, and a month later Perez hired then-Miami Lakes Councilman Nelson Hernandez as a “financial analyst.”
On Nov. 13, 2012, Miami-Dade County leaders issued a proclamation declaring it “Dade Medical College Day.”
A month later, County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo received word back from the county’s ethics commission that it was OK for him to take an $18,000 contract with Dade Medical to assist them with state and federal “legislative strategies” for six months. Bovo had asked for and received the blessing of the county’s ethics attorneys with the stipulation that he not act as a lobbyist himself and avoid Miami-Dade County issues.
In light of Perez’s recent arrest, the fate of pending projects in Coral Gables and Homestead are now uncertain. Perez had pitched the expansion of his Homestead campus as the revitalization engine that would finally breathe life into the city’s forlorn downtown. But the city would have to sell land to Dade Medical at a deep discount.
Former Homestead Councilman Steve Losner said it’s time to reject that sales pitch, lest his city become forever identified with a “shady for-profit college.”
“Maybe Homestead needs to see the writing on the wall,” Losner said. “This may be a house of cards that’s about to fall in.”
Perez ran into unexpected resistance to his plans in Coral Gables. He had bought a Jacksonville school, Southern Career College, and renamed it the University of Southernmost Florida. Perez wanted to establish a campus in Coral Gables, but the city staff rejected the plan because he lacked the required number of parking spaces. Frustrated, he lashed out at a City Commission meeting last month.
“Now some of you know me personally,” Perez began. “I’m involved in the process in and around the great state of Florida. Some of you up here I‘ve supported. Some of you up here I’ve supported and now I find myself, I wonder why I supported you and stood up for you at the time.”
In Perez’s current criminal case, the former CEO considered hiring the law firm of state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami. Though Perez ultimately decided against it, Trujillo has represented Dade Medical in previous non-criminal cases.
At the same time, Trujillo championed legislation favorable to Dade Medical. The state representative denies any conflict of interest — arguing that other colleges will benefit as well.
Earlier this year, Trujillo engineered a new state law that gutted the regulatory oversight of physical therapy assistant programs. Dade Medical offers a $35,050 physical therapy assistant associate degree.
Under the law change, which Trujillo achieved by tacking on a last-minute amendment to an unrelated bill, for-profit colleges such as Dade Medical will no longer have to get their programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, or CAPTE. For decades, CAPTE has been the gold standard of quality in the industry. Until Florida changed the rules, CAPTE was the only accreditor in this field, and it is recognized in all 50 states.