Federal courts

Robaina’s wife testifies the couple didn’t cheat the IRS

 
 
Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and his wife, Raiza Robaina, leave federal court on Wednesday, April 23, 2014.
Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and his wife, Raiza Robaina, leave federal court on Wednesday, April 23, 2014.
ROBERTO KOLTUN / EL NUEVO HERALD STAFF

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

The wife of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina stood by her man Wednesday, taking the witness stand in the couple’s federal tax-evasion trial to say they did not cheat on their tax returns by hiding $2 million in income from the U.S. government.

Raiza Robaina, 40, said she was responsible for her family’s household finances and tax returns, including interacting with a certified public accountant who did their joint tax returns. She said that she and her husband relied on their accountant, Pelayo Vigil, for filing correct and accurate returns from 2005 to 2010 — the period covered in the couple’s conspiracy indictment.

The Robainas’ defense attorney, David Garvin, asked her whether there were mistakes on the couple’s tax returns.

“Yes, but they were just that — mistakes,” she testified.

Who made the mistakes? Garvin asked.

“The accountant that we trusted to give us the correct information,” she responded.

She then blurted out that the whole ordeal has been “upsetting” because when others make mistakes, nothing happens. “But when we make mistakes, we get indicted.”

Raiza Robaina was called to the witness stand as a crucial witness to her and her husband’s defense. It remains to be seen whether the former Hialeah mayor will follow her as a witness. Both are charged with conspiring to evade paying taxes on unreported income totaling $2 million and filing false tax returns in 2006 and 2007.

The Robainas are also charged with lying to federal authorities about the husband’s involvement in the wife’s two loan businesses, which charged high interest rates to a Hialeah jeweler who was eventually convicted of running a Ponzi scheme. Julio Robaina is also charged with lying to authorities about receiving cash payments from the schemer, Luis Felipe Perez, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

On Wednesday, Raiza Robaina portrayed herself as knowing little about taxes back in 2005, the year that her husband was elected mayor of Hialeah. She said that the next year, the couple decided to let her run their loan businesses so her husband could avoid any conflict of interest as mayor.

Raiza Robaina testified that she and her husband did not submit “false or fraudulent” tax returns in 2006 and 2007, and that neither of them lied to Internal Revenue Service agents and federal prosecutors about his involvement in her two loan companies, MR Holdings and RVR Holdings.

Those companies loaned $750,000 to Perez at a 36 percent interest, according to prosecutors. Perez, who hopes to get a sentence reduction, testified last week that he negotiated the terms of the loans with Julio Robaina: 18 percent to be paid in checks, and 18 percent to be paid in cash.

In total, Perez said he paid $600,000 in interest to Julio Robaina, including delivering cash payments to the home of a Hialeah power broker, Rolando Blanco, so the mayor could pick up the money. Blanco’s son, Roberto, also testified about the cash pick-ups, and said he handed some payments to Robaina.

Before trial, prosecutors claimed that the mayor kept the cash payments secret from his wife because he wanted to use that money to spend on a mistress. But no evidence of the alleged mistress has surfaced during the couple’s trial, which began two weeks ago.

At trial, the Robainas’ accountant, Vigil, testified that the Robainas kept him in the dark about loan and real estate transactions that should have been included in their tax returns.

For example, Vigil said the Robainas failed to inform him about an $800,000 lobbying fee that the mayor collected in 2007 from a developer who wanted to build a large commercial project in the neighboring city of Hialeah Gardens.

Prosecutors argued that the Robainas, who have five children, never reported that income. Instead, they said, the couple used the money to buy a luxury Miami Beach condominium and poolside cabana.

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