The Miami-Dade ethics commission on Tuesday charged Ernesto Perez, owner of Dade Medical College, with improper lobbying — creating another headache for an educational leader already facing criminal charges for allegedly lying about his criminal past on government forms.
At the crux of the eight new ethics allegations: Perez’s failure to register as a lobbyist when pushing for new or expanded campuses for his string of private, for-profit colleges. It is a civil, not criminal, matter. If found in violation, Perez could be fined or reprimanded by the ethics commission.
“We’ll address that matter before the ethics commission,” Michael Band, Perez’s criminal defense attorney, said when asked to comment. Perez did not return a message left with the college. Dade Medical co-CEO/General Counsel Jonathan Janeiro declined to comment.
Governments require lobbyists to register as a way of promoting transparency.
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Investigators with the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust identified eight instances in which they say Perez should have registered as a lobbyist — seven involving city administrators in Homestead, where Perez once planned a massive expansion of his college. The Homestead incidents date to 2011 and 2013.
The eighth alleged example of improper lobbying happened in April of last year, and involved Coral Gables then-City Manager Pat Salerno and the city’s director of development services, Jane Tompkins. At the time, Perez was involved in a heated disagreement with the city over parking spaces for the University of Southernmost Florida, which is owned by Dade Medical.
Perez and the city were at odds over whether the college had the required number of parking spaces to fully open its Coral Gables campus. In a memorandum, ethics investigators described their interview with Salerno, who said that Perez called him about the dispute and “indicated that he needed the matter resolved quickly as it was ‘costing him a lot of money.’ ”
“[Perez] further advised that he wanted the city to approve the requested change ‘right away,’ ” the memo says. Salerno, according to the memo, told Perez that the city’s zoning rules had to be followed. The college leader then complained that Dade Medical “didn’t have to do this type of thing in other cities,” Salerno said.
Said Salerno: “I sensed he was unhappy with me.”
In Homestead, Perez’s lobbying was ultimately met with disappointment in December, when the city backed out of a planned land sale to Dade Medical’s real estate affiliate. The deal had been in the works for years, and would have granted the college 19 city properties at a deep discount.
While in office, former Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman helped orchestrate the real estate deal — without disclosing that Perez had hired the mayor’s wife as a real estate consultant.
In April, the ethics commission charged Bateman with an ethics violation for failing to disclose a gift from Dade Medical — while mayor, Bateman flew to Tallahassee on a private jet with college executives.
Bateman’s ethics case is pending. He also faces pending criminal corruption charges unrelated to Dade Medical.