Miami – Several Miami-Dade police officers are being targeted by the federal government after they took part in a credit repair scam in which they allegedly wrote phony crime reports in exchange for cash bribes, according to federal court records.
So far only one cop, Miami-Dade Officer Rafael Duran, has been charged in the scheme, but according to federal prosecutors, multiple police officers working for more than one police department in Miami-Dade accepted bribes in the scheme, which was orchestrated by now-imprisoned “credit doctor” Vanessa Perez, aka Vanessa Ortega.
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Perez allegedly paid Duran and other police officers to write up false reports, indicating that her customers, who were looking to clean up their credit records, had been the victims of identity theft. Perez would then submit the phony reports to credit rating companies like Equifax, which would in turn issue the customers good credit based on the fraudulent reports.
“Perez obtained many of these false police reports by paying monetary bribes, directly and indirectly, to police officers employed by police departments in Miami-Dade County,” according to federal prosecutors in court records. “In return for these monetary bribes, police officers created the police reports that falsely reported the alleged incidents of identity theft.”
The police officers received $200 or more for each report they wrote, according to the feds, and some of them, including Duran, also benefitted by having their own credit histories and those of family members and associates fraudulently cleaned up so they could receive loans. Federal documents do not reveal the total number of cops involved, though sources close to the investigation told Local 10 that one other officer involved in the scheme, who is not being identified in this report, resigned from the Miami-Dade Police Department after the investigation began. Duran, who faces up to 20 years in prison, shielded his face from the camera and refused to answer questions after a court appearance earlier this month.
Perez operated several credit repair companies — with names like Networth, Consolidated Financial Services, and Credit Doctor & Associates — in Miami beginning in 2008. In all, she submitted 215 bogus police reports, with at least 130 of them written by bribe-taking cops, according to the feds. She allegedly charged $1,500 for the service to each customer and made a total of $322,500 on the scheme.
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She and her husband, Mario Perez, began cooperating with the feds after FBI agents raided one of her companies, FSM Group, on October 25, 2012. She pleaded guilty on a fraud conspiracy charge in November 2013 and began serving a 64-month prison sentence in February of last year. Her husband was sentenced to 55 months for his supporting role in the scam.
Also identified in federal court papers as a co-defendant in the scheme is a man named Mitchell Page, who was identified as an intermediary through which Perez paid some of the police officers involved.
This isn’t the first time Vanessa Perez has been in trouble with the law. In 1998, she made the news as Vanessa Orgega when she was charged with voter fraud after working on former Miami Commissioner Humberto Hernandez’s campaign and casting votes for him. She ultimately took a plea deal in that case as well. One former close associate, who spoke with Local 10 on condition that his identity not be publicly revealed, said she used personal charm to dupe many people.
“She was very personable,” said the former associate. “She was one of these individuals that was very charismatic. Underneath it all she was a con artist. There were irate customers demanding their money back, and she would just laugh and say, ‘I’m not giving your money back.'”
Two of her former customers, who also asked for anonymity, said she simply ripped them off of the $1,000 they and numerous others paid her.
“We kept calling her and asking her if anything was being done and after that she disappeared,” said one. “I guess people trusted her.”
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In court papers, Perez, 45, who was born in Puerto Rico, is described by her attorney as a “self-medicating alcoholic,” due to an abusive relationship, and “suffers from anxiety and major depressive disorder.”
“Mrs. Perez is truly remorseful for her actions,” wrote attorney James DeMiles in a motion asking for a reduced prison sentence.
The former close associate said he doesn’t buy it.
“She is like the devil,” he said. “She is very cold-hearted. Remorseful? I don’t believe she is at all. I think she’s just sorry she got caught.”
A spokesman for the FBI has declined comment on the case as the federal investigation is continuing. Duran has pleaded not guilty.
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