Florida Bar accuses lawyer who represented UM booster Nevin Shapiro

Maria Elena Perez, who represented Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro, was slapped with allegations of ethical violations during botched NCAA probe.

04/16/2014 12:00 AM

04/16/2014 12:01 AM

The lawyer who represented rogue University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro has been accused of unethical behavior during the botched NCAA investigation that led to sanctions against the school.

The Florida Bar this week filed a formal complaint against Maria Elena Perez, of Coral Gables, for violating numerous ethics rules during the NCAA probe in 2011.

If the Florida Supreme Court ultimately finds she committed misconduct, Perez could be suspended or even disbarred. She could not be reached on Tuesday afternoon.

Shapiro, who sparked the probe by telling the NCAA that he plied high-profile UM athletes with gifts for years, is serving 20 years prison for fleecing investors in a $930 million Ponzi scheme. Ultimately, UM voluntarily agreed not to compete in bowls for two years; the NCAA last year put the school on probation for three years and took away nine scholarships.

But the probe, which was largely built on Shapiro’s word, was significantly weakened after it emerged that the NCAA had paid Perez $19,000 for her help in questioning witnesses in the case.

In 2011, Perez used her subpoena power in Shapiro’s bankruptcy case to compel the deposition testimony of Michael Huyghue, the founder of a Shapiro-funded sports agency alleged to have paid cash gifts to athletes. She used the same tactic, the Florida Bar found, with former team assistant equipment manager Sean Allen, who had worked briefly for the sports agency.

The NCAA has no subpoena power and neither man had any obligation to talk to the association.

The Florida Bar, according to its complaint, built its case on scores of internal e-mails, invoices, and text messages.

According to the complaint, she also leaked a copy of one deposition transcript to the media, billed the NCAA for depositions that never took place and lied in public statements about her work for the athletic agency.

Perez, a UM graduate, even contacted HBO Sports, which secretly provided a videographer to record the depositions, according to the complaint.

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