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Friday, August 7, 2009

Defenders, prosecutors review cases involving Broward deputy accused of sexual abuse
'Those cases are going to fall apart,' said Public Defender Howard Finkelstein
The South Florida Sun Sentinel by Ihosvani Rodriguez, Juan Ortega and Joel Marino - August 5, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - Prosecutors and public defenders are reviewing at least 15 pending criminal cases -- an attempted murder case among them -- that may depend on the testimony of accused Broward Sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Bleiweiss. Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said Wednesday that his staffers also are looking at recently closed cases. He said they have been getting unconfirmed reports that the deputy might have been physically abusing homeless people. Bleiweiss' attorney said those reports are false. "He's an open target now, especially as a law enforcement officer, and as an openly gay deputy," said Eric Schwartzreich."Where were all these people before? You have to be suspicious of their motivations and biases. You have a good, tough officer, and naturally people are not going to like him." Bleiweiss, 29, is accused of intimidating at least eight illegal immigrants he picked up on traffic stops, including a teen, into performing sexual acts while he was on duty in Oakland Park. He faces 14 criminal charges. Broward Sheriff's Office officials said Wednesday they are considering more charges against Bleiweiss. Investigators ask that other people come forward if they have information about Bleiweiss. Ron Ishoy, spokesman for the Broward State Attorney's Office, said prosecutors also are reviewing cases that call for Bleiweiss' testimony. They will be "evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if the state can, in good faith, proceed with prosecuting any of those cases without the deputy's testimony," Ishoy said.  Among the pending cases under review are two unrelated batteries on a law enforcement officer, an armed robbery and several arrests on charges of driving under the influence. Details of the cases were not released, pending notification of the defense attorneys handling them. "Basically, if there are any cases involving Deputy Jonathan Bleiweiss, chances are those cases are going to fall apart," Finkelstein said. "I don't think the deputy will be cooperating with the State Attorney's Office, the same people who are prosecuting him."

The seven-year veteran deputy is jailed without bail and in protective custody. His attorney said Wednesday he plans to seek a new bail hearing. Reached at his home in Ashland, Oregon, Rick Bleiweiss, said he has spoken to his son regularly since his arrest. "He is absolutely innocent," Bleiweiss said. He declined to comment further. The case against Bleiweiss will depend heavily on the cooperation of those who have accused him. That might prove difficult to obtain. South Florida immigration attorneys say illegal immigrants who are victims in criminal cases might be wary of testifying in court for various reasons, including concern they will be arrested or deported. "Some cooperate and some have shied away," said Jeffrey Brauwerman, a former immigration judge who practices immigration law in Plantation. "Cases do fall apart when witnesses are unavailable." Miami immigration attorney Ira Kurzban said authorities might be able to persuade immigrants to testify by providing them visas under a law that protects crime victims. Such visas, good for several years, are available to those who provide court testimony and meet other requirements. "If the state wants to get them as witnesses, that's the best way to do it," Kurzban said. Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, said those visas are rarely offered early in a case and never are guaranteed. "You don't want to make it look like a quid-pro-quo thing," said Little, whose group represents immigrants in court cases. "Most of them come forward because they know it's the right thing to do." Ihosvani Rodriguez can be reached at or 954-385-7908.

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