Feds eye Maria Elena Perez
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- An attorney who represents the convicted felon at the center of the Miami athletics scandal is facing additional scrutiny, with a federal judge asking if her relationship with the NCAA was unethical.
Maria Elena Perez's actions will be reviewed and she may face discipline, according to an order signed this week by Chief U.S. District Judge Federico A. Moreno.
At issue, Moreno wrote, is whether Perez acted unethically in taking money from the NCAA for work -- specifically, three depositions -- done as part of Nevin Shapiro's bankruptcy case.
Shapiro is the convicted Ponzi scheme architect who gave dozens of Hurricane athletes and recruits impermissible benefits for nearly a decade, and his actions eventually led to a long investigation of the Miami athletic department. The NCAA accused Miami of lacking institutional control when it filed allegations against the Hurricanes last month, and one of the cited reasons was that the Hurricanes failed to properly monitor and control Shapiro.
Perez is also the subject of a Florida Bar probe, related to her work with the NCAA.
Perez declined comment Friday, though has said on numerous occasions in recent weeks that she did nothing wrong by using subpoena power to depose witnesses as part of Shapiro's bankruptcy case.
In a letter she wrote in response to a complaint filed with the Florida Bar, Perez wrote that the NCAA agreed to be a third-party payor and that she never worked 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, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
The NCAA does not have subpoena power, and any information it gleaned from those depositions performed by Perez was eventually taken out of the notice of allegations that was sent to Miami. And when he announced in January that problems with the Miami investigation had been discovered, NCAA President Mark Emmert called the deposition arrangement "a very severe issue of improper conduct" by the association's enforcement arm.
NCAA records show that Perez was paid about $19,000, or roughly one-third of the amount she billed the association.
Moreno asked the Committee for Attorney Admissions, Peer Review, and Attorney Grievance court committee for a report and recommendations by May 8. The same committee looked into Perez's actions after a separate case in 2010, in which it was found that while did not operate in bad faith, she did not meet "required standards of conduct and professionalism" in an appeals case that was unrelated to the Shapiro, Miami or NCAA matters.
Several people involved with the Miami investigation are no longer with the NCAA, including former vice president of enforcement Julie Roe Lach -- the one-time top cop in the association -- and former director of enforcement Ameen Najjar, who wrote a letter to a federal judge in New Jersey on Shapiro's behalf days before he was sentenced for running the $930 million Ponzi scheme.
Shapiro was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and ordered to pay about $82 million in restitution.
Miami is expected to appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions beginning June 14. University officials, including president Donna Shalala and athletic director Blake James, have said in recent weeks that they believe Miami should not face further sanctions other than ones already self-imposed, such as forfeiting the chance to play in two bowl games and last season's Atlantic Coast Conference football championship game.