Five weeks before for-profit Dade Medical College collapsed, the liquor was still flowing.
It was open bar at a ribbon-cutting for a new outdoor terrace at Dade Medical’s smaller affiliate school, the University of Southernmost Florida. The location: downtown Coral Gables.
There was hors d’oeuvres. There was paella. And there were politicians.
Ernesto Perez, Dade Medical’s principal owner, donated big to scores of political campaigns, sometimes backing both candidates for the same seat. He steered jobs and contractual work to nearly a dozen local politicians, and invited them and their colleagues to events like this one. In those moments, Perez made it a point to shoot photos of himself with the politically powerful, which he liked to splash on the Internet and share on the school’s Facebook page.
The political prestige gave the college credibility, which raised the school’s profile, which helped to recruit more students. That, in turn, boosted profits, which allowed for even more political contributions, and even more influence. Prosecutors say Perez spent more than $750,000 on political contributions.
Perez’s school had luxury suites at Miami Heat games, and Miami Dolphins games.
“If I was at a Heat game and ran into him, they might have handed me a wristband,” acknowledged state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, who also attended the September ribbon-cutting.