By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org
Self-appointed justice reformer Jonathan Bleiweiss, credibly accused of molesting 25 men when he was a Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy, has shut down an attempt to send him back to prison for a long stretch.
Prosecutors wanted substantial prison time to punish Bleiweiss for violating his probation. Under the terms of a generous 2015 plea deal, he served less than four years of a five-year sentence for multiple counts of battery, stalking and armed false imprisonment, at the same time ducking a possible life sentence for multiple sex crimes.
But what they settled for, after Bleiweiss’s lawyer unearthed a significant probation office screw-up, was Broward Circuit Judge Peter Holden’s order that Bleiweiss must have a psycho-sexual evaluation and complete a 20-week sex offender program, plus any other recommended therapy. He’ll stay on probation until 2028.
Meanwhile, Bleiweiss remains free despite a clinical psychologist’s alarming finding that he’s an above-average candidate for “sexual re-offense.”
“It appears likely that his sex crimes were driven by hatred and/or sadistic impulse rather than purely sexual desires,” psychologist John Morin wrote after examining Bleiweiss.
The criminal case that began in February 2022 with Bleiweiss’s arrest abruptly cratered April 28 after his Fort Lauderdale lawyer Robert Buschel informed prosecutors right before the resentencing hearing of the probation office’s error. The mistake raised doubts about whether the ex-BSO deputy had intentionally violated his probation.
“Prosecutors had to make the best choice available to them. The goal is to protect the community, require Bleiweiss to get treatment and hold him accountable if he does not,” Paula McMahon, spokesperson for Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor, said in a statement.
Bleiweiss, 42, was ordered to get this exact sex-offender treatment as part of his 2015 plea deal that he didn’t completely honor. Prosecutors wanted to send him back to prison because he failed to do anything more than show up.
WILL BLEIWEISS ACCEPT TREATMENT?
Now Bleiweiss is supposed to juggle treatment with his day job as executive director of Oakland Park’s Florida Justice Center, the nonprofit he started after finishing his first prison stint five years ago.
But whether he will submit to court-ordered treatment remains an open question. Attorney Buschel didn’t indicate his client will comply with Holden’s order; instead, he questioned the concept of sex-offender therapy.
“In order to stay out of jail, Bleiweiss had to confess to a crime he did not plead guilty to – Catch 22. If you don’t confess, you go to jail. This is absurd,” Buschel told Florida Bulldog.
“Is it ethical to treat someone who doesn’t believe he has a problem? Is confession the only way to have effective treatment?” he asked.
Bleiweiss has consistently refused to confess to any crime. In 2019, the year he launched his justice center, he professed his innocence in an interview with Florida Bulldog. “I wouldn’t admit to something that I never did,” he said. “I’ve always believed in doing what’s right and I’m trying to keep pursuing that.”
OAKLAND PARK JUSTICE CENTER
Soon after his release from a minimum-security prison in 2018, Bleiweiss launched the donation-funded Florida Justice Center in the same neighborhood where he once terrorized undocumented immigrants. The center’s stated mission is “to empower individuals by providing legal support, community education, and removing barriers to success caused by the criminal justice system.”
In early 2022 Bleiweiss’s probation officer notified Broward Circuit Court about a “technical violation” and got him arrested. Months later, Judge Marina Garcia-Wood ruled the ex-BSO deputy couldn’t avoid the treatment condition of his probation; in October the Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed.
Those two losses set up last month’s resentencing hearing. But before the April 28 hearing, prosecutors and Buschel reached an agreement that keeps the former deputy out of prison. He remains under court supervision until his probation ends in 2028.
Bleiweiss was first arrested in 2009. After an internal BSO investigation found that he’d stalked and molested seven men, he was fired.
Still, BSO helped sabotage the parallel criminal case against him by working with immigration agents to deport Bleiweiss’s victims before they could testify, according to prosecutors. No one was charged in connection with what they describe as criminal obstruction.
Years later, lacking witnesses, prosecutors say they were forced to let the ex-BSO deputy plead guilty to relatively minor charges. So he was never labeled or classified a sex offender.
When Deputy Chief Assistant State Attorney Neva Rainford-Smith took over the Bleiweiss case, she found the evidence “agonizing.” She counted 25 victims.
Smith said she would argue for the maximum possible sentence, 35 years, for the probation violation. This was “the state’s way of seeking belated justice” for Bleiweiss’s victims, wherever they are.
WHAT BLEIWEISS KNEW
The 2015 plea deal negotiated by a former Bleiweiss lawyer, the late Alvin Entin, keeps on paying client dividends. Marketing his Florida Justice Center, Bleiweiss claims he was wrongly imprisoned but doesn’t mention the sordid charges behind his incarceration – after all, he’s no “sex offender.”
In the probation violation case Richard Merlino, Bleiweiss’s previous lawyer, filed a motion to correct his “illegal sentence,” meaning the special probation condition of psycho-sexual therapy. Merlino reasoned that since Bleiweiss didn’t plead guilty to a sex crime, he shouldn’t have to endure sex-offender treatment.
That argument failed with Garcia-Wood, the Fourth District appellate court and, finally, Holden. Shortly before the resentencing hearing date, Merlino dropped out of the case and Buschel stepped in.
Buschel dug into Bleiweiss’s record and found that a probation officer told the ex-BSO deputy he completed his treatment in June 2019. Yet in January 2022 the probation office informed Broward Circuit Court that Bleiweiss had committed a violation and he was arrested.
Smith noted that the probation officer’s 2019 mission-accomplished notice to Bleiweiss was “incorrect,” but her case was badly damaged. If Bleiweiss had reason to believe he’d fulfilled his therapy commitment, she couldn’t prove he’d intentionally failed.
“To persist in seeking a return to prison would have been irresponsible,” McMahon wrote, “because it was clear that prosecutors could not meet the legal burden that Bleiweiss willfully and substantially violated the terms of his probation.”
Now prison is off the table unless Bleiweiss doesn’t follow Holden’s April 28 order to the letter. Prosecutors will be watching.