Prosecution Complex

The strange saga of a smooth-talking hit man, jealous secretaries, and a ruined prosecutor

As for Band's departure, Rundle says she had to abide by the special prosecutors' findings. "After inviting them in, it would be inappropriate for us to second-guess their results," Rundle says.

Yet Rundle admits the scandal's fallout is significant. Besides Band's resignation, it includes: dismissal of two veteran secretaries for, among other things, accepting gifts from a convicted murderer; firing of a third secretary for forging a co-worker's signature on subpoenas; and scuttling a major murder trial.

Even the Fort Myers prosecutors invited to ferret out the truth have been stained by the case. Investigation critics note that the special prosecutors may have had something to prove regarding sexual harassment. After all, their office paid a female prosecutor $200,000 last year after she sued, claiming one supervisor made sexual advances and another covered it up. The investigators from Fort Myers did not return five messages from New Times seeking comment.

The two people at the scandal's center are Rossbach and the jailed hit man she befriended, Jorge Ayala. And although she was the original focus of the scandal, Rossbach survived unscathed. The special prosecutors vindicated her, and her supervisors reinstated her with back pay.

Rossbach is a slim brunette with hazel eyes who has worked in the SAO for twenty years. In May she claimed Band harassed her for years and that his behavior culminated at the SAO Christmas party this past December, when he fondled her breasts.

Band denies this. Of the fourteen prosecutors contacted by New Times, not one believed Rossbach's story. Interviews with another six present and former SAO staff members also failed to turn up any Rossbach supporters. Most agreed that she likely found an opportune way to avoid the consequences of her liaison with Ayala.

Before his imprisonment, the 41-year-old killer worked for Griselda Blanco, a Colombian immigrant who ran a vast and violent drug network in Miami during the 1980s. He is serving a life sentence for three murders in Dade County. He dodged the death penalty by agreeing to testify against Blanco.

By all accounts Ayala is a jailhouse charmer. He met his wife, Marisol, by telephone in 1994 while serving his murder sentence. After they married, he impregnated her during a prison visit.

Ayala first contacted Rossbach because she was the secretary for Catherine Vogel, the prosecutor on the Blanco case. They quickly struck up a friendship. He called her collect and the pair spent hours on the phone. She cooked for him. She even spoke with him from her home.

Many of Rossbach's job evaluations reflect well on her two decades in the office. Her supervisors cited her as dedicated and organized. Several witnesses complimented the way she helped them. But SAO workers and other colleagues have questioned her credibility and tactics. Among their complaints:

*Rossbach's friend Joe Diaz questioned her comment to investigators that she often discussed Band's harassment with him. Diaz, a former Metro-Dade police officer, told New Times she talked about her problems with co-workers, but never about Band making improper approaches.

*In 1993 secretarial supervisor Bobbie Sweet filed a fourteen-page memo outlining Rossbach's emotional state. "The pattern is so clear," Sweet wrote. "I feel this employee needs to seek professional counseling." Rossbach "felt there was a 'conspiracy' to have her removed from the unit" and alleged that co-workers were hiding paperwork to make her seem unprepared, Sweet said. Though Rossbach claimed she overheard people discussing ways to get her fired, Sweet could find no proof. She concluded Rossbach had "invaded the private conversation of two co-workers," made accusations of sabotage "without any factual basis," and rooted through the trash to find an illegible, torn-up note.

*In 1992 Miami police officer Edward Figueroa claimed Rossbach threatened him in an attempt to win a real estate commission for her husband. After his home was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew, Figueroa discussed a new home purchase with Steve Rossbach, a fellow Miami cop who moonlighted as a realtor. When Figueroa looked at a house without contacting the Rossbachs, he contends Sherry Rossbach demanded a commission anyway. "If you do this, we will sue you and you will lose everything, even the house," she allegedly said, then added: "You forget who I work for. I know many people." Rossbach admitted threatening to sue, but denied mentioning her workplace.

*In 1982, SAO supervisors suspended Rossbach for three days for abusing her position. She admitted using an SAO computer to discover that Steve Rossbach's ex-wife had not paid a traffic citation. Though Sherry Rossbach tried to have the woman arrested, it turned out the record was inaccurate. "You used official criminal justice information ... for personal reasons ... which created the inference of impropriety by an employee of this office," her suspension memo stated.

*Several SAO secretaries claim that Rossbach often threatens to sue when she gets angry. In 1993, for instance, secretary Patty McMahan claims Rossbach threatened to sue her for sabotaging paperwork. And in 1992 she allegedly told a group of secretaries she would sue them for slander if they talked about an investigation involving her sister, according to one of the women present, Mayra Odio.

Rossbach declined to answer New Times's questions about the incidents or her relationship with Band. Her only comment was: "Have you talked to Michael Band? I wonder if he'd have the courage to tell the truth. I'm getting sick to my stomach just thinking about this." Then she referred all comment to her attorney, Robert Rosenblatt. "I think her personnel record is pretty good for twenty years," Rosenblatt says. "Overall, I think it's an outstanding record."

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