By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Levine's not buying it.
"His [Weick's] attitude," Levine asserts, "was that [Stephanie] was going to be a lousy witness and that most parents expect too much and what did I expect to come out of this case anyway? I looked at him and said, 'First of all, why are you concerned with her being a perfect witness when you have a total confession? Second, my expectations are that he'll be sentenced for whatever crimes he committed and confessed to, serve his sentence, and he'll be deported and he won't hit the streets of this country again. '"
Regardless of Levine's hopes, the case withered on the vine. She first learned of its fate on October 28, a Thursday, when she received an urgent call from Velma Ruiz, the victim's advocate assigned to Stephanie. "She said that there was a serious problem with the case and I needed to call Dennis Siegel," Levine says.
Ruiz had no doubt learned that, the day before, Judge Cynthia Imperato had granted a motion to release Rehman without bail because no charges had been filed within the time frame required by state statute. Ruiz would not talk about the matter, but Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for the Broward SAO, responded in writing about the case. Ruiz had gotten a final update on Weick's outstanding cases on October 28, according to Ishoy. "He told her Mr. Siegel had not signed off on this particular case but it was not a problem because there was [a federal] hold," Ishoy wrote.
At Ruiz's urging, Levine pressed Siegel. "He assured me that he'd do whatever he could, as quickly as he could," Levine says. "He didn't do it that day or Friday. He didn't do it Monday, when he had until 8:30 p.m. -- when this guy was actually getting out of jail -- to do something.
"On Tuesday, I sat my ass in his office until he did. He was not a happy puppy." Levine also insisted that Siegel request an emergency hearing before the judge to arraign Rehman and set bail, but he told her that wasn't possible.
Despite the fact that Imperato had ordered Rehman released, Siegel and others say they believed the federal detainer would keep him from walking free. "We had no reason to believe that the hold would be lifted, " Ishoy wrote. "The feds lifted the hold without telling us."
But according to Michael Rozos, an ICE field director for detention and removal in Florida, a detainer is simply a notification process that asks jail keepers to notify the agency if a prisoner is going to be moved or released.
Whatever help the feds could have been, the Broward SAO missed its chance. "If they'd charged [Rehman] with that crime, he probably would not, with our detainer, have been entitled to a bond at the state level," Rozos says. "He probably would have remained in custody until such time as he had a full hearing and was either convicted or acquitted."
But there was no sense of urgency -- even though Rehman had been released on his own recognizance and he appeared to be a flight risk. Steve Rossi, the public defender assigned to Rehman, tried to drop his client on November 12, asserting in a motion that his client "has been unable to abide by the terms and conditions of his representation." The problem may have been that Rossi, who later withdrew his request, had been unable to contact Rehman, but Rossi did not return a phone message requesting an interview for this article.
In addition, a court notice dated November 5 sent to Rehman via U.S. mail was returned as undeliverable. Rehman's alternative address for such documents was a suite at a warehouse building on Sunrise Boulevard in Plantation. The suite now appears abandoned, with no indication of what business might have been there last fall or if indeed it had been a legitimate mailing address at all.
Despite this, Imperato granted Rossi two requests to postpone the arraignment hearing. Not until December 20 was the hearing held. And in what should have come as no surprise to anyone, Rehman was a no-show. (Rossi, in fact, had requested once again to withdraw because his client wouldn't cooperate.) Imperato issued a warrant for Rehman's arrest. But it was too late.
Levine, who'd been suffering through a lengthy and serious staph infection, attended the hearing. She was livid when Rehman didn't show up, and she called Det. Jones. She recalls him telling her: "Turn around, go upstairs in the courthouse, and get a physical copy of the warrant and bring it to me. He's about to step off a plane." Jones told her that he had a friend in U.S. Customs who'd seen Rehman's name on a list for a flight to New York. She got the warrant and called him, but he told her it was too late; Rehman had apparently made his way to Amman, Jordan.
She recalls: "I broke. I was hysterical."
Since then, Levine has slowly retraced every twist and turn in the case, keeping authorities' feet close to the fire. She's pushing lawmakers to make molestation a federal crime and to force local prosecutors to be more accountable for screwups. (Ishoy says that, in response to the Rehman case, the office has created a separate case-filing team for the sex crimes unit and that Siegel reviews the team's progress twice a week.)