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A high-level executive at an Opa-Locka, Fla., tobacco company is facing extortion charges after allegedly threatening a Miami-Dade family court magistrate who recommended a judge rule against him in a paternity case. In a letter to the magistrate, he told her to step down or face a public relations nightmare, according to an application for an arrest warrant filed by investigators. Victor M. Gonzalez, comptroller for the family-owned Dosal Tobacco Corp., posted $7,500 bond Tuesday after his arrest at the company’s headquarters the day before. Gonzalez, 50, was charged with one count of extortion, a second degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in state prison. State attorney’s office investigators arrested him Monday, months after he allegedly sent a threatening letter — via certified mail — to the general magistrate involved in his family court case. Detectives didn’t have to look very far. The letter was signed and included a return address for Gonzalez’s Miami-Dade home, according to investigators. The state attorney’s office did not immediately provide a copy of the letter to the Daily Business Review. Investigators say the letter, which reached Miami-Dade General Magistrate Margaret Rosenbaum’s courthouse office Feb. 8, revealed deep resentment against her. In the letter, Gonzalez accused his attorney, Hialeah solo practitioner Carlos Rippes, of requesting thousands in cash to bribe the magistrate and award Gonzalez full custody of his son. He also gave Rosenbaum an ultimatum: resign from her position within 45 days or he’d go to police detectives and The Miami Herald with audio and video proof of her and his lawyer’s corruption, according to investigators. The application for the arrest warrant also stated he would send the Herald “various cadaveric photographs of his son.” Reached Thursday, Gonzalez said: “There is nothing to discuss. There is nothing happening. This is a misunderstanding.” But the spokesman at the state attorney’s office, Ed Griffith, said the matter is a grave one. “Don’t threaten a judicial figure. The system takes threats against prosecutors, judges and public defenders very seriously,” Griffith said. State law provides judges with the same protections granted law enforcement. Official records that could easily be used to identify them or determine their home address or other sensitive information are shielded from public access. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, who also serves in family court, said her division is especially subject to threats. “Family court judges are the judges that are at most risk. When you’re dealing with people’s children and family matters, that’s what most enrages them,” she said. Rosenbaum, who remains in family court, did not return calls for comment by deadline. She held hearings in the paternity case involving Gonzalez and Saraminta Perez, a woman with whom he fathered a child. Investigators say Gonzalez was infuriated after Rosenbaum recommended several orders siding with Perez. After Gonzalez failed to show up to an Aug. 17, 2009 hearing, Rosenbaum recommended suspending Gonzalez’s visitation rights to his son pending hair follicle drug tests to determine whether he was using cocaine and marijuana. Her Sept. 11, 2009, report also ordered him to immediately pay part of the $42,195 he owed in retroactive child support over a two-year period. Gonzalez filed a Bar complaint against his attorney, accusing Rippes of getting cozy with Perez. Gonzalez also complained that Rippes refused to give him a copy of the case file after he fired him. But Rippes denied the allegations and told Bar officials he only spoke to Perez in the courthouse with her attorney present. He also claimed he tried to provide Gonzalez a copy of the file through a paid messenger. Perez’s attorney, Miami solo practitioner Brandy Christie Gonzalez-Abreu, did not return a call for comment before deadline Thursday. A final report by Bar counsel Theodore P. Littlewood Jr. said there was insufficient evidence from the materials provided by Gonzalez to prove Rippes violated any Bar rules and the complaint was dismissed. Rippes has a clean record with The Florida Bar, but has faced three complaints that Bar officials dismissed for lack of evidence. “In my 27 years of practice, I’ve had crazy allegations, but this one takes the cake,” Rippes said. “I feel for our magistrate, who is a professional judicial officer. I’m sorry that she’s gotten so much grief, and it’s a shame that this had to go where it ended up.” In the letter to Rosenbaum, Gonzalez accuses Rippes of doing more than simply befriending Perez. He also claims Rippes requested $5,000 in cash to bribe the magistrate before the Sept. 11 hearing. After that hearing, Rippes allegedly requested $10,000 to reverse the magistrate’s “screw up.” Rippes is also accused of requesting $25,000 to get Gonzalez full custody of his son, much as if Rippes “were selling a horse.” Gonzalez had audio and video proof of it all and was ready to post it on YouTube to destroy the careers of both Rippes and Rosenbaum, the letter said. Investigators say audio transcripts from court hearings don’t substantiate Gonzalez’s allegations. But what still has investigators scratching their heads is what they call Gonzalez’s blatant attempt to extort the magistrate. “Clearly, this individual not only wanted the magistrate to know of his threat — he wanted the authorities to know as well — and that’s highly unusual,” Griffith said. The paternity case remains open before Circuit Judge Paul Siegel.

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