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Med School Founder Sues Miami Herald

MIAMI (CN) - The founder of the profit-seeking Dade Medical College claims in a lawsuit that The Miami Herald defamed him and his institution.

Ernesto Perez and Dade Medical College sued the Herald and its reporter Michael Vasquez, in Miami-Dade Circuit Court,

Perez claims he founded the college in 1999 to fill a need for healthcare workers, and that today the institution has 500 full-time employees serving 2,000 students. According to the school's website, it has six Florida campuses, stretching from Homestead to Jacksonville.

Perez claims the Herald and Vasquez defamed him and his school in a series of stories that ran from October to December 2013.

"The articles are a false and unjustified attack on for-profit colleges, or as Vasquez views it, the 'predatory practices' of for-profit colleges, and impair the future business and earning capacity of DMC," Perez claims in his 22-page lawsuit.

He adds: "In advancing their predetermined stories, the defendants abandoned journalistic integrity and ignored the fundamental canons of journalistic conduct while wholeheartedly embracing the publication of false and defamatory articles that were made with actual malice. ...

"Vasquez's personal beliefs have overcome any evidence of journalistic integrity to the point where he has written various articles stating as face false criminal accusations, improper business practices and attributing acts to plaintiffs that were done by other parties that in no way relate to the plaintiffs."

Perez particularly objects to the Oct. 26 story under the headline, "Troubled Past Casts Cloud over Powerful College CEO."

"The article falsely claims that DMC is purchasing land in Homestead, Florida. However, Vasquez and The Herald were informed prior to the publishing of the article that DMC was not purchasing the lands, did not own the lands, and, in fact, it was the Florida Education Center of Homestead that owned and would be purchasing the lands," Perez claims.

"Such a fact, however, was ignored by Vasquez and The Herald presumably as it would not fit into the remainder of the story in which Vasquez and The Herald falsely accuse DMC and Perez of having public officials 'benefit in some other way' so that DMC could purchase lands in Homestead at a deep discount.

"To further their defamatory attack on DMC and Perez, Vasquez and The Herald falsely claim that DMC's classes are taught by 'unqualified faculty.'"

Nor did Perez care for the defendants' Nov. 29 story: "Miami Lawmaker's In-Law Gets Tuition Freebie at Dade Medical College."

"In this article, The Herald and Vasquez claim, once again, that public officials are benefiting 'in some way' from DMC - this time, the defendants claim that 'the sister-in-law of state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, is receiving free tuition,'" the complaint states.

"That statement is false and meant only to damage DMC, insult the student, and have the Herald readers believe that DMC is making improper payments to public officials. And, of course, as was done in the previous article, Vasquez once again attacks the reputation of DMC and the business by claiming that DMC is in the process of being sold - another false statement clearly designed to discredit DMC in the business and educational community as well as suggest a lack of permanency in an attempt to adversely affect enrollment numbers and confidence of the students in the institution."

Two more stories followed in December, including a Dec. 7 piece, "Homestead May Pull Plug on Land Deal with Tarnished Dade Medical College," which reiterated details of the earlier articles, and described Perez as "a convicted sex offender" and claimed that the "college has become the target of a criminal investigation," Perez says in the lawsuit.

"Neither of those statements of fact are remotely true and are clearly maliciously intended to damage DMC and Perez," Perez claims. "And like previous articles, this article also attacks DMC's business reputation and how the school is run. This time the Herald and Vasquez claim that DMC is misusing federal funds, even though DMC executives had explained to Vasquez - days before - that the financial practices employed by DMC were in accordance with federal law. ...

"The gist of all the articles published by The Herald and Vasquez is that DNC is a poorly ruin institution and one run by Perez who is an unethical person and businessman. The defendants do this falsely stating or otherwise conveying to the average reader that Perez and DMC is a criminal who makes improper payments to public officials.

Perez says the Herald refused his demands for retractions.

An Internet search for information on the Dade Medical College turned up two Miami Herald stories from October 2013 of which Perez did not complain.

In one, dated Oct.23 and headlined "Amid Criminal Charges, CEO of Dade Medical College Resigns," the Herald reported that Perez had been charged with two counts of perjury, a misdemeanor, and one count of providing false information through a sworn statement, which the Herald called a third-degree felony.

"All three charges against Perez stem from his repeated failure to disclose prior criminal arrests and/or convictions when filling out government funds," Vasquez wrote in the bylined article.

According to the Herald, Perez was arrested on charges if second-degree sexual assault of a child in 1990 and of aggravated battery in 2002.

The Herald said the 1990 incident occurred when Perez was touring with a heavy metal band and allegedly had a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old fan. The newspaper reported that he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of battery and exposing his genitals to a child and spent six months in jail.

The Herald offered no details about the second arrest. The story contained no statements from Perez, but did include the comments of former Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick, who is Dade Medical College's dean of public administration.

"It was probably the best for him and for the school," Slesnick told the Herald, referring to Perez's resignation. "Being under the gun as he is right now ... he needs to take care of business for himself and for his family."

Perez seeks compensatory and punitive damages for defamation.

He is represented by Joseph Klock Jr. with Rasco Lock Perez Nieto in Coral Gables.

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