MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Deliberations began Monday in the trial of Hialeah’s former mayor and his wife on charges of failing to report about $2 million in income to the Internal Revenue Service and lying about it to investigators.
Julio and Raiza Robaina are accused of hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable compensation — including a Ferrari sports car worth $176,000 — and money from high-interest personal loans to friends and associates, including convicted Ponzi schemer Luis Felipe Perez. The interest rate topped out at 36 percent annually.
Prosecutors also said they used three shell companies that did almost no business to claim thousands of dollars in tax deductions that were actually their own personal and political expenses — including cuff links and cigar boxes the mayor doled out as gifts and printing of his Christmas cards.
“This is an absolutely shady enterprise,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Davis told jurors in closing arguments. “It was not an accident. It was not a mistake. It was done willfully.”
Jurors deliberated a short time Monday and then recessed until Tuesday.
Julio Robaina, 49, served as Hialeah mayor from 2005 to 2011, and at one point was president of the Florida League of Cities before an unsuccessful run for Miami-Dade County mayor in 2011. He did not testify in his own defense, but Raiza Robaina blamed many of the problems on mistakes made by the couple’s accountant. She insisted they did not knowingly submit false or fraudulent tax returns.
Their attorney, David Garvin, laid blame on the accounting mistakes and also with Perez, the Ponzi schemer who is serving a 10-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to running a $40 million fraud scheme. Garvin said Perez, in an effort to get a lighter sentence, pointed government investigators at Robaina and his wife.
“He said, ‘I know someone you want more than you want me: the mayor of Hialeah,'” Garvin told jurors. “There is a complete void of any evidence of willfulness in this case.”
Garvin said the tax disputes should have been handled through an IRS audit rather than criminal charges.
The trial, which began April 11, has exposed a shadowy banking system that has long existed in the heavily Cuban-American city of Hialeah, the second-largest municipality in Miami-Dade County.
The current Hialeah mayor, Carlos Hernandez, testified that he also made high-interest loans to Perez and collected thousands of dollars in payments. Hernandez has not been charged with any crime and testified as a government witness in the Robaina case.
If convicted of all counts, Julio Robaina faces a maximum of 21 years in federal prison, while Raiza Robaina could potentially get 16 years behind bars.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)