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January 26, 2013

Florida Bar opens file on Miami lawyer thrust into spotlight of NCAA-UM probe

A Miami attorney is under preliminary investigation by the Florida Bar for her role in the NCAA’s probe of the University of Miami’s athletic program.

The Florida Bar has opened a preliminary investigation into possible ethics violations by the Miami attorney paid by the NCAA to get information not otherwise obtainable in its probe of the University of Miami athletic program.

Bar officials said Friday they opened a file on attorney Maria Elena Perez, based on news reports of her involvement in the NCAA’s investigation.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” said Perez, a graduate of UM’s law school.

The Bar staff’s probe, focusing on a potential conflict of interest, could go nowhere or be referred for review.

On Wednesday, the NCAA said its investigators “improperly” obtained information by working too closely with Perez, the criminal defense attorney for Nevin Shapiro, a former UM booster who admitted he gave cash to Hurricanes’ athletes. Shapiro, a businessman convicted of a Ponzi scheme, is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

NCAA officials admitted the association paid Perez for taking the December 2011 depositions of two witnesses she subpoenaed to testify in the bankruptcy case of Shapiro’s former investment company.

Under NCAA policy, the association’s investigators did not have the power to issue subpoenas to compel the testimony of a former UM assistant equipment manager and a sports agent.

Perez told The Miami Herald that she took the depositions as part of her strategy to corroborate Shapiro’s version of events and to seek a reduced prison sentence.

“Nevin is and always has been my primary concern,” she said.

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