For the men of the Career Criminal Squad, who specialize in murder-for-hire cases as well as violent, street-level hate crimes, Jana Rozenman has nothing but praise.

"If my case had been given to other people," she says, "I'm not sure I'd be alive today."

PROFOUND PETTINESS

The former Mrs. Rozenman reached out to me last week after she read my column decrying the announced disbandment of the squad that saved her life.

"I'm in disbelief," she told me. "If the squad is being disbanded, what's next? If people are going to say it's for a budget cut, I won't believe it. I'm sorry. I don't."

That is, in fact, what Phoenix PD's brass claims: that the Career Criminal Squad is getting cut and its detectives reassigned because of budget mandates from City Manager David Cavasos.

But the cut does not stand up to the scrutiny of cost-benefit analysis. As I reported last week, in the CCS' two-year existence, it's engaged in 400 investigations that have garnered 150 felony arrests, 53 search warrants, and 180 weapons and explosives seizures.

That's a staggering amount of work for a four-man detail. The weapons seizures have drawn the attention of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is picking up the tab on CCS overtime, fronting money for gun buys, even going so far as to offer the squad office space.

The squad has drawn support from former Phoenix police commander and current Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead, who says he's so enthusiastic about the squad's work that he wants to form an investigative unit just like it within the Mesa PD.

Bill Straus, regional director of the Arizona Anti-Defamation League, has gone to bat for the squad, meeting with Assistant Police Chief Joe Yahner, to plead for CCS' survival.

Last year, the ADL honored the man who formed the squad, Lieutenant Heston Silbert, with the George Weisz ADL Law Enforcement Award. Silbert shared the honor with his squad, because the plaudit was for the unit's work in busting numerous white-supremacist skinheads and neo-Nazis, dangerous offenders who've violently assaulted African-Americans, Hispanics, and gays.

The squad's ability to resurrect cold cases, do undercover work, and secure convictions is legendary. Ask Chad Kerns, a neo-Nazi doing 10 years in the state pen for stabbing a black man outside a Walgreens and beating up a Hispanic man at the Rogue West bar in 2007.

Or ask David Elms, former owner of prostitute-rating Web site the Erotic Review, who was just sentenced to 4½ years in an assault-for-hire plot investigated by the CCS.

So what gives? What explanation is there for the axing of this proven investigative team? Especially since the Phoenix City Council has passed a two-cent food tax to alleviate such measures and since Phoenix cops have taken a 3.2 percent pay cut for the same reason.

Sources tell me that internal cop politics has more to do with the disbandment than bean-counting. These sources cite envy of the squad's record and jealousy directed toward Silbert, the squad's former leader.

Even though Silbert no longer oversees the squad and is now in charge of the Phoenix PD's Ahwatukee-Foothills substation, PD brass want to eviscerate the CCS because Silbert formed it and takes some credit for its successes.

Police insiders point to a long-running feud between Commander Rob Handy and Silbert that's spilled over to Handy's boss, Assistant Chief Yahner.

"Handy and Yahner are as thick as thieves," one source told me. "They're practically inseparable."

These sources aver that the buck stopped with Handy and Yahner on the cut, though, of course, the ultimate responsibility for doing away with the squad lies with embattled Public Safety Manager (formerly known as Police Chief) Jack Harris.

Harris has had his hands full recently, fending off calls for his resignation from the Reverend Oscar Tillman, president of the Maricopa County NAACP, over the manhandling of Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson by a Phoenix police officer.

African-Americans have been incensed, and rightly so, at the treatment of Johnson, a former Phoenix PD police detective and the city's only black councilman.

But they should be equally outraged by the disbandment of the CCS over reported political pettiness. Hate crimes against blacks and other minorities were up 30 percent in 2009 over the previous year.

And though Phoenix has a bias crimes unit, it does not do intense undercover investigations like the CCS. Indeed, the CCS is the only unit in the Phoenix police force that actively investigates and infiltrates the rabid racist skinhead groups operating in the Valley.

Who will do that work in the CCS' absence? The Phoenix PD doesn't have a clear answer, saying only that the responsibility for such investigations will revert to the Major Offender Bureau, out of which the CCS was formed and of which it is still a part.

Will there be another investigative unit put together to do the same job? Last week, Commander Charles Miller, a spokesman for the department, couldn't say.

When I asked about what I'd been hearing regarding the supposed beef between Handy and Silbert, and its effect on the decision to cut CCS, he disputed the notion that the disbandment was because of the kind of shenanigans worthy of Steve Carell's character in The Office.

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A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE CASE GOING WILD

In March of 2010, Dimitri Rozenman was accused of conspiring to commit murder. The financial worth of his company was overstated in the recent divorce settlement, giving his ex-wife a substantial windfall. An appeal of the ruling was filed. Dimitri's children s' welfare and stability were of great concern. An employee, Levi Najar, knew of this concern and repeatedly suggested if he could be a go-between his ex-wife and Dimitri to workout a more equitable solution. Being unaware of the familiarity between his ex-wife and Levi Najar, Dimitri agreed to a meeting. On February llth, a meeting took place at the home of Jana's parents, with Najar, Jana, her parents, and Najar's father. The following morning, Levi reports to Dimitri that things got out of hand and Jana's father was assaulted. This was a lie to extort Dimitri. Dimitri never envisioned things would escalate to such a magnitude. Hours later, Dimitri and Jana bump into each other twice at Saks Fifth Avenue, exchanging “Hi.”The next time Dimitri sees Najar, there is a camera, incoherent talk and confusion to Dimitri. Subsequent actions by the Phoenix Police Department charge Rozenman with conspiracy to commit murder for hire. Najar's statement on February 15th 2009, states, 'when I'm talking to him, (Dimitri}he doesn't understand anything I'm saying in the first place.”Several days later, with Dimitri in jail, Najar makes an impromptu visit to Jana to extort at least $175,000 for his father and at least $5,000 to $10,000 for himself. Jana feels the pressure and intimidation and contacts the police giving testimony that she owes him the money and will pay it, but not in one lump sum. Police never ask her why she owes him this money at this time. Jana's statement “this is not a loan several times to the repeated question by the detectives, “Was this a loan?”Immediately after Jana tells the police about the $175,000 demand, a grand jury convenes, however, the information about the monetary demand by Najar was withheld. Instead, Najar was told to hide, appear for the trial and then disappear.. Levi contradicted himself numerous times that Dimitri entered into a conspiracy to commit first degree murder. There was never any evidence money Levi stated Dimitri paid him was ever paid, and dates Levi stated it happened changed over four times. Also, Levi changed the total amount from $50,000.00 to $70,000.00 A trial takes place. The jury takes two and a half hours to take into consideration fifteen hours or more of statements and a lengthy trial, all on a late Friday afternoon. . Has our justice system failed us again?

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A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE CASE GOING WILD

In March of 2010, Dimitri Rozenman was accused of conspiring to commit murder. The financial worth of his company was overstated in the recent divorce settlement, giving his ex-wife a substantial windfall. An appeal of the ruling was filed. Dimitri's children s' welfare and stability were of great concern. An employee, Levi Najar, knew of this concern and repeatedly suggested if he could be a go-between his ex-wife and Dimitri to workout a more equitable solution. Being unaware of the familiarity between his ex-wife and Levi Najar, Dimitri agreed to a meeting. On February llth, a meeting took place at the home of Jana's parents, with Najar, Jana, her parents, and Najar's father. The following morning, Levi reports to Dimitri that things got out of hand and Jana's father was assaulted. This was a lie to extort Dimitri. Dimitri never envisioned things would escalate to such a magnitude. Hours later, Dimitri and Jana bump into each other twice at Saks Fifth Avenue, exchanging “Hi.”The next time Dimitri sees Najar, there is a camera, incoherent talk and confusion to Dimitri. Subsequent actions by the Phoenix Police Department charge Rozenman with conspiracy to commit murder for hire. Najar's statement on February 15th 2009, states, 'when I'm talking to him, (Dimitri}he doesn't understand anything I'm saying in the first place.”Several days later, with Dimitri in jail, Najar makes an impromptu visit to Jana to extort at least $175,000 for his father and at least $5,000 to $10,000 for himself. Jana feels the pressure and intimidation and contacts the police giving testimony that she owes him the money and will pay it, but not in one lump sum. Police never ask her why she owes him this money at this time. Jana's statement “this is not a loan several times to the repeated question by the detectives, “Was this a loan?”Immediately after Jana tells the police about the $175,000 demand, a grand jury convenes, however, the information about the monetary demand by Najar was withheld. Instead, Najar was told to hide, appear for the trial and then disappear.A trial takes place. The jury takes two and a half hours to take into consideration fifteen hours or more of statements and a lengthy trial, all on a late Friday afternoon. If you have any relevant information please e-mailatlanticig@gmail.com

Emmett
Emmett

CLEARLY, this is a case of vendictive office politics. Lets start with Phoenix Police Executive Assistant Chief Joe Yahner.. WHAT has he done in his career to be vaulted to the #2 position?? Name one positive thing that he has done in his career to better the Phoenix Police Department....Not one thing, he hid out for his entire career, never made any hard decisions, never stayed late, and he avoided the hard subjects...(but he is vendictive)..He has a hard on for Lt. Silbert, because Silbert respectfully disagreed with a decision Yahner made...Add that to the fact that Yahner is intimidated by Silbert. Silbert takes care of business and always has. Silbert has the respect of the rank and file because he leads by example. Yahner does not know what that means. What is even more sad, Silbert voluntarily left the unit. Yet Yahner still wants to target his men. Nice judgement there Joe! Nothing more important to worry about as PPD's #2?? How about dealing with the flat out overtime fraud that has been going on for years by a few people in DEB?? You know the ones. We all do, but nobody wants to deal with it..(oh yeah, and those guys never worked for Silbert, so they are safe...

Virgil
Virgil

Great article by Lemons. It's rare an article will capture so much in so little space. Having retired from the PPD, I am disheartened at what has happened to the Department. The leadership has fallen apart. The chiefs have built thier own camps and if you are not a part of one or a part of the wrong one, you will have serious problems. Someof the chiefs are locked out, it's a shame. I know the players in this article. The lieutenant is highly respected by the rank and file and it drives Yahner and Handy crazy. This is an age old problem on the PD, guys promote too young with no real experience and they micro-manage or hammer those who actually know the job and keep the community safe. Jack Harris is a good man, but he surrounded himself with guys like Yahner and Handy and they will be his undoing, even worse they will cause horrible relationships with the rank and file. Keep the squad, leave the personal politics out of it, if the idea works don't fight it.

pete green
pete green

Wow....it is kind of amazing that the fourth floor wants to do away with this very productive squad, and, at the same time is creating a squad in the water department (hhmm makes me wonder)??? ALSO trying to fill vacancies for non-productive squads in the same bureau; while at the same time doing away with the only such squad on the Police Department (very suspicious).

Maybe the 4th floor should look at cutting squads that attack only misdemeanor type crimes (like having several squads doing street level prostitution). wouldn't the citizens be better served by reducing VIOLENT crimes??????

VJohnson
VJohnson

I have been a Phoenix resident for over 40 years. In that time I have seen many changes in our community, some good, some bad. I think most would agree as a community we have seen increases in violent crimes and more violent offenders over the decades. Given the size of our community (5th largest metropolitan area – but not positive on that), the many cultures, and the challenges Phoenix faces, to eliminate a workgroup that is trained and focused on investigating the skilled repeat violent offender does not seem like a sound decision. Given the group’s results, as noted in the articles, they seem to have plenty of work. For me, it brings into question the decision making process of those entrusted to lead PPD. Is this really the best workgroup to reassign? We know the criminals are not going away because we face a budget issue. As a long time resident, I like knowing my police department has a skilled workgroup that can address the serious threats to our community. I sleep better at night knowing those serious issues are not being handled by another overworked group, as an extra assignment. I am sure the victims appreciate a skilled detective that is not carrying 100 other cases as well. I compare it to going to a foot doctor to have brain surgery. The foot doctor is skilled in his area, but not skilled enough to handle the brain surgery. Sometimes you need an ACE.

Ron Warner
Ron Warner

Obviously the Career Criminal Squad is one of the most productive and effective units in the department. With several thousand officers I am sure that these four detectives could remain in their current positions without draining the budget. By this time you would think that the department would have come up with a better excuse for eliminating the squad then someone else would do their work.

George San Carlos
George San Carlos

With all the bad news coming out of the PHX cop shop these days this is one the PHX police should be selling as a shining example of what they do right. They need to keep the CCS in tact and celebrate it, not kill it. What's wrong with "Chief" Harris anyway? This should be a no-brainer. Keep the fucking squad making the busts and putting away scumbags like Dimitri R. This is what we want the cops to be doing. This is what we pay them for.

 
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