Shortly before Dade Medical College sued the Miami Herald over critical articles, a private investigator was hired to “follow” a reporter who authored the articles.
The contract for the surveillance includes a handwritten line: “Target: Michael Vasquez.”
The deal was aimed at digging up information on Vasquez, who in 2013 began chronicling questionable business practices at the for-profit college founded by Ernesto Perez.
The effort became public only because Hialeah private investigator Carlos de Varona, in August, filed a lawsuit against Perez, the majority owner of Dade Medical, in Miami-Dade small-claims court. He alleged that Perez failed to pay $4,971.87 owed on the contract to “follow a Miami Herald reporter and document his activity.”
The lawsuit was brought to the Herald’s attention on Thursday.
Backup materials included in his lawsuit show de Varona billed for 75 hours of work, which included producing an “investigative report” and surveillance video. After payment wasn’t made in full, the investigator sued, saying he had been “very patient and had made many attempts to collect the debt with negative results.”
Reached on Thursday, de Varona declined to comment, saying the lawsuit against Perez is now closed. “The bill had been paid. He heard about it and he paid me.”
Documents show de Varona was retained through the Miami law firm of Rasco Klock Perez Nieto, which later represented Perez in a defamation lawsuit against the Herald and Vasquez. The lawsuit, filed in February 2014, was dropped in March of this year with the Herald making no payment, correction or concession.
Lawyer Juan Carlos Antorcha, whose signature was on the contract, declined to comment when reached by the Herald.
Late Thursday, Perez emailed the following response: “The investigator was hired at the request of my lawyers at the time. It’s normal procedure when you are in a lawsuit with someone. We believe that Mr. Vasquez is and has been on the community college payroll.”
Vasquez is not employed or paid by Miami Dade College — which Perez also sued — or any other outside entity.
Said Miami Herald Executive Editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez: “It is outrageous to think that an organization would spend thousands of dollars to track a reporter who was just doing his job. It would have been easier if they had just responded to our questions.”