The tax-evasion trial of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and his wife got underway Friday with opening statements.
A 12-person Miami federal jury, which was picked Thursday, will hear allegations that Robaina and his wife, Raiza, conspired to defraud the federal government by failing to report more than $1 million in income including $300,000 in cash payments allegedly collected from now-imprisoned investment scammer Luis Felipe Perez. The trial, presided over by U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro, could last three weeks.
Before trial, prosecutors Richard Gregorie and Michael Davis argued that the couple had a conflict of interest with being represented by one defense attorney. They claimed that Robaina arranged to be paid in cash by Perez so he could use the money for his alleged mistress and keep it a secret from his wife.
But the Robainas stood united, insisting that the issue would not pose a conflict at trial because Perez and another witness who made the allegation were liars.
The Robainas' defense attorney, David Garvin, will argue that his clients never received cash payments and reported all of their income from loans to Perez and their other investments.
Last year, a federal grand jury indicted Robaina, 49, and his wife, 40, on tax-evasion charges. Both also are charged with lying to federal agents about Robaina's involvement in his wife's two lending businesses, and he alone is charged with lying about receiving the undisclosed cash.
The couple is accused of receiving the cash as interest on personal loans they made to friends, including Perez, who borrowed $850,000 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 that came to light during Robaina's unsuccessful bid for county mayor in 2011.
The main conspiracy charge in the indictment accuses the Robainas of overstating losses on their businesses and understating gains in their personal income between 2005 and 2007.
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.