While Hialeah Councilwoman Vivian “I’ll notarizethat!” Casals-Muñoz has publicly denied any ties to su alcaldito CarlosHernandez in her re-election campaign, she has openly maintained a beneficialrelationship with former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, her one-timebrother-in-law, freelance banking business partner and political mentor. Robaina has helped her raise funds and has voiced support in robocalls and radio ads.
Now, as of last week, both Roba-y-na’ andCasals-Muñoz are named as third party defendants in a lawsuit that claims theyconspired to charge 36 percent interest on a mortgage loan. Florida statute states that anything over 18 percent isusury — or loansharking — and, thus, illegal.
The plaintiff is Guillermo “Willy” Zuñiga, aone-time city employee fired by Robaina in 2009, who is supporting and regularly seen standingnext to former Mayor Raul Martinez — who is in a heated race against Hernandezfor the mayor’s seat. The lawsuit was filed in Miami-Dade County Court Nov. 8 by attorney, Richard Gross, who also happens to represent Martinez.
The motion claims that the two politicos — principals of the 1stHialeah Bank of Julito — and Robaina’s wife Raiza “The Fallgirl” Villacis-Robaina conspired”to charge a criminally usurious interest rate (35.73692%) on the loan to Guillermo Zuñiga by overstating… the amount of funds to be paid to Chase/J.P. Morgan, Zuñiga’s first mortgage, as $17,335.4`1 when only $10,037.29, at most, was actually paid… with the balance of $7,298.12 being diverted to the benefit of the schemers: RVR Holdings, Raiza Villacis-Robaina, Julio Robaina, C & M Title, Inc. and Vivian Casals-Muñoz.”
Indeed, documents in the court filing obtained by Ladra — the latest motion to answer a December 2010 lawsuit filed by RVR Holdings after Robaina became a player in a federal investigation — include a settlement statement that shows $17,335 as “payoff of first mortgage loan” and an Oct. 31 letter from Maria Balignase at JP Morgan that indicates only $9,900 on the mortgage, which brought him current (for monthly payments from Sept. 21, 2006 through Aug. 8, 2007) on his deceased father’s house on East 23rd Street, That’s not paying it off.
When first questioned about it, Casals-Muñoz — whose hands trembled as she held the documents Ladra showed her — said Zuñiga got part of the $17,335 given to him. Later, she had one of her new campaign volunteers — a driver borrowed from the failed “above the fray” fight by third-place candidate and former Sen. Rudy Garcia — provideme with a 2007 letter from attorney Marshall Watson, representing Chase, that shows a $17,335 total balance due, including escrow installments, attorney’s fees, accumulated late fees and foreclosure closing costs. But still, how come the settlement statement (shown here) shows the whole $17,335 as payoff of the loan? Hmmmm? And what a coincidence (read: not) that it turns out to be a 36 percent interest — the same magical number reportedly charged to convicted ponzi schemer Luis Felipe Perez by Hernandez and by Robaina for the loans made to him. And she could not provide any checks or other documents that showed how the wire transfer was made.
“The Grand Jury has this file and the pay-off letter,” Casals-Muñoz told me as we chatted about it in her campaign office on West 68th Street Sunday morning. She said she gave investigators “boxes” when they asked her, as owner of C & M Title, for “any documents I had in regards to Julio Robaina, RVR Holdings and Recaredo Gutierrez and Luis Feliple Perez.” How many boxes? Two boxes? “Boxes,” she said. Ten boxes? Because, you know, it makes a difference. “Boxes,” she said again. Why is it so hard to get a straight answer?
The councilwoman could not produce the checks or wire transfer copies for the $17,335, saying again, “that file was given to the Grand Jury” and said she had not been served with the lawsui. But Casals-Muñoz — who has been implicated in the investigation by witnesses I’ve spoken to who say she came up during their testimony and by a federal investigator who said “her fingerprints are on everything” — declined when Ladra offered her a chance to make copies of the documents I have and which she evidently had not seen before. “I don’t want to deal with Willy Zuñiga. I want my attorney to deal with Willy Zuñiga,” she said. When I asked who her attorney was, she said, “I don’t know which attorney I’m going to use.” What? Does she have a pool of different attorneys or nobody representing her right now at all?
“They need to produce those checks,” Gross told Ladra, adding that the the loan was set up by Julio Robaina through his wife’s company. “But Raiza had nothing to do with the loan,” Gross said, adding that the $4,150 included in the July 2007 letter was paid by them in February when Robaina advanced him $5,000. “Julio told Zuñiga that Vivian had some of his money and he got it from her,” Gross said, adding that the conspirators also put both that East Hialeah property and Zuñiga’s own Palm Lakes neighborhood house in the mortage deed without his knowledge.
Casals-Muñoz questioned the timing of the motion and said it was politically motivated. But Ladra — who everyone knows is Danny’s dog — wonders why she didn’t get copies of the documents as soon as it was filed. Or why the motion wasn’t filed three weeks ago before the first round.
Now that would have been a smart political move. Nah, this is just the latest twist of the ongoing As Hialeah Churns telenovela.
And Ladra predicts it will play on long after next Tuesday — with or without political persuasions.