Editor's Note: See correction at end of story.
Nevin Shapiro, the convicted University of Miami booster who blindsided the school’s athletic program with claims of gift-giving to players, is now admitting to committing perjury when he testified in a criminal trial against a local businessman who is serving 18 years in prison.
Shapiro has sent a letter to a Miami federal judge — along with an ethics complaint to the Florida Bar — claiming he lied under oath in December 2008 when he testified against Juan Rene Caro, who was charged with running a $132 million check-cashing scheme.
Shapiro told U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard that Caro, owner of the La Bamba chain of check-cashing stores, did not receive a fair trial because Shapiro committed perjury on the witness stand and his high-profile lawyers, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein, knowingly allowed him to lie.
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In the accompanying Florida Bar complaint filed this month, Shapiro said he lied when he was asked about his investment company. He testified that he operated a grocery brokerage business, but the operation actually was a front for the Ponzi scheme that he later was convicted of running.
Shapiro, who had borrowed $400,000 from Caro to pay off gambling debts on sports games, was given immunity for his testimony against the La Bamba owner, who was convicted in 2009. Shapiro was charged in 2010 with directing the Ponzi scheme, a $930 million investment swindle unrelated to Caro’s case.
Now serving a 20-year prison sentence for securities fraud, Shapiro claims his criminal defense lawyers, Lewis and Tein, knew about the federal investigation into his Ponzi scheme before he took the witness stand in the La Bamba trial but left him vulnerable to questions about his fraudulent business.
So Shapiro — whose veracity has been attacked throughout the National College Athletic Association's investigation into UM's sports program — says he had no choice but to lie.
“I believe a terrible injustice has occurred at the hands of my former attorneys, and it is my opinion that Mr. Caro was not given a fair trial as a result of the misconduct of my former attorneys,” Shapiro wrote in the May 17 letter to the federal judge, attaching his Florida Bar complaint. He also sent the letter and complaint to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Caro’s defense lawyer, Arturo Hernandez.
Lewis, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, Tein, an ex-prosecutor in his office, and their defense attorney, Paul Calli, did not return email and phone messages. The Miami Herald sent Shapiro’s letter and Florida Bar complaint to them last week.
Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker said, as policy, its staff will open an inquiry into Shapiro's complaint.
Hernandez’s client, Caro, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for fraud conspiracy and filing false currency transaction reports.
Ever since, Hernandez has sought to gain a new trial for his client, saying federal prosecutors in Miami knew about the FBI’s investigation into Shapiro’s investment scam at the time he testified in Caro’s trial, but they did not disclose that information to him so he could ask Shapiro about it.
Prosecutors in Miami have asserted they did not know about the separate federal investigation, conducted in New Jersey, into Shapiro’s investment scam. Lenard, as a result, denied Hernandez’s bid for a new trial, noting the evidence was still sufficient to convict Caro without Shapiro’s testimony.
But Hernandez now argues that Shapiro’s perjury disclosure to the federal judge should compel her to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the Miami prosecutors knew about his investment scheme in the hope that Caro can obtain a new trial.
“In my judgment, this validates what we have been arguing and presenting to the court all along,” said Hernandez, who plans to incorporate Shapiro’s disclosure into his effort for a new trial.
When Shapiro was targeted by federal agents, he hired Lewis and Tein and agreed to pay them $500,000, according to his Florida Bar complaint. But he could not come up with all the money, so at a steep discount he agreed to sell them his 58-foot Riviera yacht that he had regularly used to entertain UM football stars.
In the complaint, Shapiro said his lawyers should have tried to work out an immunity deal not only for his money-laundering offense in Caro’s case but also for his Ponzi scheme. Shapiro claims that sometime in 2008, before he was called to testify at Caro’s trial, Lewis learned from a Justice Department source that his client was under investigation for the Ponzi scheme.
But instead of protecting him, Shapiro said in the complaint, both Lewis and Tein advised him to cooperate with prosecutors and testify at Caro’s trial – even if it meant being asked cross-examination questions about his business, Capitol Investments Inc.
Shapiro said in the complaint that Lewis and Tein did not alert the judge that “there may be issues with my testimony, in that … questions [by Caro’s lawyer] may have invited an answer from me that could result in my further self-incrimination and/or in my committing perjury.”
By the end of 2008, Lewis informed Shapiro that he had been in contact with his Justice Department “insider,” who revealed that he was going to be charged with securities fraud in New Jersey. On New Year’s Eve, Shapiro hired the pair to represent them in the Ponzi defense, at a monthly fee of $50,000.
Shapiro said both lawyers assured him that everything was “under control,” and that “he would never see the inside of a jail,” according to his Florida Bar complaint.
Shapiro said he socialized with his lawyers, attending a “piano night” at Guy Lewis’ home, where they sipped on Macallan’s 65-year-old scotch whiskey valued at $246,000 a bottle, the complaint says. They also enjoyed boating excursions together on Shapiro’s yacht, and dined at Prime 112 and other upscale Miami Beach restaurants.
Ultimately, Shapiro paid Lewis and Tein more than $900,000 for their services, according to the complaint. But soon after he was charged with securities fraud in April 2010, they dropped him as a client.
The following year, Shapiro was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay $83 million to about 60 fleeced investors. Lewis and Tein were compelled to return $400,000 of their fees to a court-appointed trustee who had taken over Shapiro’s bankrupt business as part of a recovery effort.
A page 1 story published in the Miami Herald on May 27, 2013, incorrectly stated that convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro admitted, years after the fact, that he had "lied under oath" while testifying during the 2008 federal trial of a businessman charged with money laundering. In a May 2013 complaint to the Florida Bar about his lawyers, Shapiro said he testified that his company, Capitol Investments, was a wholesale grocery brokerage. It was, in fact, he said in the Bar complaint, a "full-blown Ponzi scheme." But he did not explicitly admit in the Bar complaint that he had "lied under oath."