An ex-Broward County deputy who pleaded guilty to multiple counts of armed false imprisonment, battery and stalking has now apparently turned his life around by running a Florida nonprofit designed to help those who have been wrongly accused of crimes.
After Jonathan Bleiweiss only served a little over three-and-a-half-years of his five-year prison sentence for abusing his police authority to coerce young, undocumented men into giving him sexual favors, Bleiweiss seems to have found a way to “help these people that I met inside.”
And in order to do so, Bleiweiss has launched a nonprofit criminal justice center based in Fort Lauderdale. Their aim is to get as many people out of jail and equip them with the tools and services necessary to ensure they won’t go back.
The former deputy who is believed to have sexually abused at least eight victims was never required to register as a sex offender.
Now he says he has seen the light.
“After serving as a police officer and then a convict, my eyes were opened to the injustices of the legal system,” reads the caption under Bleiweiss’ photo on the nonprofit’s website. “I started the Florida Justice Center to help those marginalized and disenfranchised by the system.”
But many people are skeptical.
“It sounds like ‘I’ve got a website, send me money and I’ll spend it,” Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein told the Florida Bulldog.
“He’s a bad cop who should have nothing to do with justice,” the public defender said.
It is a bit ironic that an ex-cop convicted of looming deportation over the heads of undocumented immigrants in exchange for oral sex has taken it upon himself to start a criminal justice initiative. But through the years, Bleiweiss has maintained his innocence.
“I wouldn’t admit to something that I never did,” Bleiweiss, who told the Florida Bulldog. “I’ve always believed in doing what’s right and I’m trying to keep pursuing that.”
But the evidence against him suggests otherwise. For starters, every witness and victim that came forward were completely unrelated, yet they all shared the same story. Bleiweiss spots a young Hispanic man then questions his citizenship status. If he didn’t have proof of residency, the Bleiweiss would pat him down and ask for the man’s semen. Bleiweiss would even demand their cell phone numbers so the harassment didn’t have to be a one and done deal.
Even a priest came forward in June of 2008, almost a year before Bleiweiss was arrested, warning county officials that the 6-year veteran was abusing homeless people that came to his soup kitchen but nothing ever came from Father Bob Daudill’s email. Bleiweiss was never investigated or reprimanded.
One month after Bleiweiss was named Employee of the Year for his district in April of 2009, an attorney contacted Fort Lauderdale police to inform them of a Broward deputy who was sexually assaulting undocumented immigrants. The award-winning deputy was soon arrested and ultimately fired two years later.
It took six years and some hush money before Bleiweiss’ case was closed. When it finally was, he accepted a plea bargain that got him a mere fraction of the potential life in prison he was facing for all seven cases made against him. Another part of his plea deal was not having to register as a sexual offender.
While his civil suits were taking their sweet time to get resolved, many of the victims and witnesses were deported or no longer able to speak to authorities. Even if they could, the undocumented men risked retaliation from the Broward police who saw openly-gay Bleiweiss as their bridge into the LGBTQ community.
In an interview with the Florida Bulldog, Neva Rainford-Smith, the prosecutor who took over the Bleiweiss case, said she found a payment of $3,000 in several settlement agreements thus ensuring the victims could never testify against the officer. And without a sexual offender label haunting him, Bleiweiss became the executive director and board treasurer of the Florida Justice Center.
The nonprofit’s website claims they “provide free and low-cost lawyers to those accused of crimes, assistance with bail, and connections to social services” specifically for low-income adults aged 18-30 years old living in Broward County…which also happened to be his choice demographic when targeting who to harass.
Along with Bleiweiss as the showrunner, the Justice Center’s staff includes a chief technology officer and a paralegal who both seem to have a passion for criminal justice and racial equality.
According to the nonprofit’s website, early intervention programs are free for first-time low income offenders and legal representation starts at $200 for anyone interested.