Politically active Hialeah pain clinic owner Mark Cereceda pleaded guilty Wednesday after investigators found he made his employees contribute illegal donations to political campaigns across the state.
Cereceda and brother Kemel Cereceda will have to pay over $100,000 in fines, plus another $40,00 each to two charities, according to the plea deal. The men will have to serve three years of probation, including 60 days house arrest — after serving three days in jail.
Also, the men cannot make any political contributions during their probation.
Prosecutors believe that Cereceda, a chiropractor who has actively lobbied lawmakers to keep Florida’s personal injury protection law intact, got his employees to illegally contribute more than $25,000 between 2010 and 2012.
Charges also were brought against Mark Cereceda’s clinic, Florida Wellness & Rehabilitation Center, which specializes in treating traffic accident victims and benefits from business generated by the PIP law.
Cereceda pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of making a campaign contribution in the name of another. His brother pleaded guilty to a felony count of making an excessive contribution in the name of another.
Both received a “withhold of adjudication,” which means no conviction will appear on their criminal histories. The brothers must also complete 160 hours of community service.
“I think it’s a fair result,” said Kemel Cereceda’s lawyer, Arnold Trevilla. “Our clients are very important parts of the community. They employ a lot of people and are very reputable. They are looking forward to putting this behind them.”
The campaign donations included ones to Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, state Sen. Joe Negron and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa. Others included Carlos Trujillo, Katie Edwards and Eddy Gonzalez — all candidates for state representative.
Investigators do not believe any of the candidates knew of the illegal contributions.
The Cereceda brothers, prosecutors say, had their pain clinic employees write checks to the campaigns. Then, the brothers reimbursed them, by check or cash.
By Florida law, an individual or company can only donate $500 to each candidate. According to an arrest warrant, Cereceda had 30 employees or their family members donate to campaigns.
“Most, if not all, of the employees did not have any knowledge of who the candidates were that they contributed to,” according to arrest warrant.
Cereceda has made plenty of news in recent years.
Miami-Dade police began investigating him after news broke that a Hialeah-branch county court judge, who had before her cases affiliated with Cereceda’s clinics, wrote a letter to state authorities seeking that his company be reinstated.
The clinic had let its business license lapse. The state’s corporations division treated the judge’s letter on official letterhead as a court order and reinstated the company for free.
Pando was investigated for ethics violations, a probe eventually dropped when she lost a reelection bid last year and agreed not to run again.
And Cereceda also contributed to her reelection campaign, which should have been reported as a gift, according to a judicial commission.
Back in 2007, Cereceda lobbied Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, then the Florida House speaker, for the continuation of the expiring “personal injury protection” law, which allows for up to $10,000 in medical expenses and lost wages for people injured in accidents.
The law, criticized for promoting rampant fraud through pain and wellness clinics, was extended several months later. Lawmakers added some reforms aimed at cracking down on fraud.
At the time, Cereceda’s mother purchased a house from Rubio. Public records showed that the price of the home was in line with comparable home sales. But former Gov. Charlie Crist, running against Rubio for the U.S. Senate in 200, accused his opponent of shenanigans relating to the sale.
Rubio called Crist’s accusations “categorically false,” insisting that the transaction was an “arms-length transaction.”