In a series of events that Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti called ``an abuse of power'' and ``a tarnish to the badge,'' law enforcement agents arrested one of their own Monday and accused him of sexually assaulting victims -- while in his uniform, in marked vehicles and on the job.
Jonathan Bleiweiss, 29, of Fort Lauderdale, who in March was honored as employee of the year for the Broward Sheriff's Office's Oakland Park District, was booked at 11 a.m. on 14 charges, including sexual battery, false imprisonment and stalking in connection with abusing one of the victims, a 30-year-old male. Bleiweiss was held without bail Monday.
Investigators said Monday they were preparing to file charges involving seven more male victims, and said there might be even more. The alleged victims range in age from 17 to 30, but all have something in common: They are undocumented immigrants, mostly from El Salvador and Mexico, who speak little English.
``I can't think of a worse betrayal of public trust,'' Lamberti told reporters Monday evening, adding: ``The fact is, he preyed on one of our most vulnerable communities.''
The investigation began in April, when an attorney contacted the Fort Lauderdale Police Department to say two of his clients claimed to have been assaulted by Bleiweiss. BSO's sex crimes unit took over the investigation.
Lamberti said they gave Bleiweiss ``the benefit of the doubt'' until they fully substantiated the allegations in July, which is when he was placed on restricted administrative duty. He is now suspended without pay.
Detectives said Bleiweiss used his authority to manipulate recent immigrants who feared the police. About 6 a.m. April 23, investigators said, Bleiweiss approached a 30-year-old man who was waiting for a ride to work outside the man's apartment complex.
The man told BSO that he was then frisked and fondled, with Bleiweiss sticking his hand inside his underwear. He said Bleiweiss demanded his cellphone number, then continuously called and sent him text messages.
According to the arrest warrant, Bleiweiss is accused of performing oral sex on the man on at least four occasions between that day and June 7. He ordered the man to comply or risk deportation, said BSO Detective Graciela Benito.
She said that when BSO investigators interviewed residents at the apartment complex, they discovered a similar pattern: On multiple occasions, she said, Bleiweiss stopped a victim, demanded an ID, then sexually abused them when he determined they were undocumented.
Bleiweiss, a graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, came to BSO in 2002 after serving almost two years with the St. Petersburg Police Department.
The only consistent criticism in his BSO personnel records concerned his penmanship. However, in March he was suspended for one day after improperly reporting an illness, according to an internal affairs report.
His base pay in 2008 was $61,098 a year.
In his 2008 nomination letter for the Oakland Park District's employee of the year, Sgt. Kelvin Phillips championed Bleiweiss as a deputy who projects ``a constant and present reminder of the Broward Sheriff's Office determination to serve the community.''
In March, Bleiweiss was featured in a glowing article in The South Florida Blade as a pioneering openly gay police officer.
Lamberti emphasized that immigrants should not be afraid to report crime, regardless of their status. He encouraged anyone else Bleiweiss may have abused to call Benito at 954-321-4249.
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Tags: gay sheriff deputy, abuse of power, broward, illegal aliens,
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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