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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — An attorney who helped the NCAA in its investigation into the University of Miami athletics department is facing a 91-day suspension from practicing law, according to court documents.
The documents show that’s what the Florida Bar recommended to the Florida Supreme Court in the case of attorney Maria Elena Perez. A Bar referee found she violated numerous legal ethics by sharing information with the NCAA she got from witnesses she interviewed while representing former Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro in a bankruptcy case.
Shapiro is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for operating a $930 million Ponzi scheme. It was Shapiro’s improper actions with recruits, athletes and staffers that prompted the NCAA to strip Miami of nine football scholarships and put its athletics department on three years’ probation that ends Oct. 21.
The NCAA has acknowledged it was wrong to align with Perez and pay her more than $18,000 to get information from the witnesses she was interviewing on Shapiro’s behalf. The bankruptcy case was aimed at finding money to return to wronged investors in Shapiro’s fraud scam, and Shapiro sought to cooperate in hopes of getting a lighter prison sentence in his criminal case.
The Bar investigation of Perez found that ultimately $35 million was returned to investors through the bankruptcy case.
The Florida Bar filing concluded that Perez, 44, is guilty of violating eight ethical rules including lack of candor, failure to disclose key facts and making false statements. In addition to the suspension from practicing law, the Bar filing recommends that Perez pay more than $4,000 in costs of the investigation.
Among other things, the Bar’s initial complaint said that Perez failed to inform witnesses in depositions about her relationship with the NCAA and that she even contacted producers at HBO about taping depositions of former Miami equipment-room staffer Sean Allen and sports agent Michael Huyghue.
In a letter responding to the Bar complaint, Perez contended that her agreement was that the NCAA would be a third-party payor and that she never worked directly for the NCAA as one of its attorneys or legal representatives.
“The NCAA was going to pay the undersigned counsel for work related to representing Mr. Shapiro in matters overlapping the enforcement staff’s investigation of Miami,” Perez wrote in the letter.
She declined to comment on the filing in an email Monday other than to note that some of the original allegations were dropped.
The Supreme Court could accept or reject the Bar’s disciplinary recommendation, and could increase or reduce the proposed penalty.
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