Elián Plus One

Conflict of interest. Anti-Cuban high jinks. A cover-up. It must be the Florida INS.

So this past March 15, Ramirez, in Appignani's company, took his complaints to the inspector general. He reported the threat to Al Hazen, special agent in charge of the OIG's Fort Lauderdale office, and said he feared for his family's safety. Hazen, both Ramirez and Appignani concur, acknowledged he was a close friend of James Goldman, an assistant district director in the Florida INS office whom the OIG might have to investigate regarding some of the offensive material. "He said that wouldn't influence his investigation," Ramirez recalls.

On March 19, the Monday following the Hazen meeting, Ramirez received a 90-day warning from his supervisor stating that his work wasn't up to snuff. Such notice is often a preliminary to firing. The timing, Ramirez and Appignani believe, was no coincidence. "I told Al Hazen that I was afraid, my wife was afraid," Ramirez comments. "They wanted to shut me up."

In the aftermath Appignani has contacted Ashcroft and U.S. representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen about the situation. He has requested an investigation and a transfer for Ramirez. So far he has received no response. The situation, says Appignani, has become akin to that of Frank Serpico, a New York City cop who disclosed corruption within his department. Retribution and violence are in the air.

Meanwhile tension is high at Ramirez's home. His wife, Patty, tearfully admits she is afraid to go the park with her kids. She believes someone from the INS will snatch them. She refuses even to go grocery shopping without her husband. "I can only plead," she says. "If anyone has the authority to transfer my husband out of the South Florida district, please do it. Now."

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