Hialeah

Jeweler who swindled millions from Hialeah politicians is set free

Luis Felipe Perez, or ‘Felipito,’ speaks to an El Nuevo Herald reporter after being released from the Miami federal detention center on Dec. 10, 2014. Perez served a four-and-a-half year prison sentence for leading a $40-million Ponzi scheme that involved a current and former Hialeah mayor.
Luis Felipe Perez, or ‘Felipito,’ speaks to an El Nuevo Herald reporter after being released from the Miami federal detention center on Dec. 10, 2014. Perez served a four-and-a-half year prison sentence for leading a $40-million Ponzi scheme that involved a current and former Hialeah mayor. EL NUEVO HERALD

Jeweler Luis Felipe Perez was released from a federal detention center in Miami on Wednesday, completing a four-and-a-half year prison sentence for leading a $40-million Ponzi scheme that involved a current and former Hialeah mayor.

Perez, 42, who is known as “Felipito,” left the center at 10 a.m. wearing a T-shirt and black pants. His mother, Aida, and other relatives picked him up.

“I feel happy to be free,” Perez told el Nuevo Herald. “Now, I want to start rebuilding my life, begin the healing process, and make up for the time I lost with my parents and my three children, who are all underage.”

Perez was sentenced in 2010 to 10 years in prison for swindling millions from dozens of politicians, business people and others. However, his sentence was cut nearly in half after he cooperated with prosecutors and testified in the April tax evasion trial of former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina, and his wife, Raiza, who were acquitted of failing to report $2 million in income and making false statements to federal agents.

Robaina did not respond to calls from el Nuevo Herald.

During the Robainas’ trial, Perez testified about borrowing millions of dollars from Robaina, current Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez and local business owners at an interest rate of 36 percent. He testified that some of his payments to Robaina were made in secret cash installments between 2007 and 2009.

“I had confidence in the testimony I gave because I went to the court to tell the truth,” Perez said Wednesday. “I would rather not make any major comments about them [the Robainas]. They had their day in court and they’re rebuilding their lives and now it’s my turn do the same.”

Perez also said he did not want to comment about his high-interest payments to the current mayor, Hernandez. At the Robainas’ trial, Hernandez said he received $100,000 in interest payments on a $180,000 loan before Perez stopped paying him in 2009.

“I’d like to comment about the case involving Carlos Hernandez but later on,” said Perez. “There are many things that need to be cleared up.”

Hernandez, who has always said he was a fraud victim, said Wednesday he hoped the jeweler would pay him the remaining $80,000 he still owes him on the loan.

“I can’t talk on behalf of all the victims, but from jail Felipito couldn’t pay me the money that he owes me,” said Hernandez. “Well, now that he has rehabilitated himself in jail he should go look for an honest job and pay me as well as the other victims.”

When the Miami Herald revealed in 2011 that Hernandez was charging interest fees of 36 percent, he denied it vehemently. At the time, Hernandez said the $180,000 he had invested with Perez only involved the principal, not the interest.

Yet, during the April trial, Hernandez admitted he had received check payments from Perez reflecting interest payments of 36 percent. Hernandez now faces potential ethics fines for failing to list those payments on his financial disclosure forms.

Perez said he had been in a federal prison in North Carolina for 17 months until September 2013, when he was transferred to the federal detention center in Miami. There, he met with investigators to prepare for the the trial against the Robainas, seven months later.

After being released from the detention center on Wednesday, Perez ate lunch with his parents and later went to the dentist.

He reiterated how the Ponzi scheme involved several other local personalities. During the trial, Perez identified the former director of Hialeah’s Chamber of Commerce, Daniel Hernandez, and Samy, a Hispanic celebrity hairstylist, as lending money to people at a 36 percent interest rate.

Perez’s accounting records indicate that Samy lent him $2 million and Daniel Hernandez, $250,000.

“This was a business that involved many people,” said Perez. “But for now I want to enjoy my freedom and my family.”

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