By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Several prosecutors contacted by New Times agreed that Rossbach's office history would have made it difficult for her to prove a harassment claim against Band. According to one of them: "If this had come in from the outside like any other case, any prosecutor would have looked at the allegation, the timing, and the accuser's history, and written 'No Motion' across that file. I mean, that woman has credibility problems."
You enter the SAO through two glass doors on NW Twelfth Avenue. If you don't work there, security is tight. You first pass through a metal detector, then visit a receptionist who is seated behind a plexiglass window. She requests a photo ID and gives you a pass. After that, a guard checks your pass, and you take an elevator to the second floor. Once there, you pick up a phone and wait for someone to escort you through a locked door, down a gray-carpeted hallway, and through another locked door. Only then are you inside the major-crimes unit, where strategies to dismantle drug gangs and prosecute murderers are plotted.
It was here, in the warren of cubicles where the secretaries sit, that a drama worthy of a prime-time miniseries, filled with jealousy and accusations, played out last winter. It started one day in early 1997 when Ayala called Rossbach to complain about his cell. The description of the events that follow is gleaned from more than 500 pages of statements taken by the Fort Myers special prosecutors unless otherwise noted.
Once Ayala agreed to testify against Blanco, prosecutors and the Metro-Dade homicide detective handling the case, Al Singleton, wanted him to remain cooperative. So they granted him a number of perks, among them unlimited phone access. At the inmate's request a jail guard would wheel a cart with a phone to his cell.
Singleton told Ayala to contact Rossbach, Vogel's secretary, if he needed anything. Rossbach says Vogel told her to "just talk to him and make him happy ... they wanted to make him as happy as they could so that he would testify."
Ayala first called in early 1997 to request another cell. Later he asked to see a dentist. Sometimes he'd leave messages for Singleton about other drug investigations. One day Ayala told Rossbach that his family in Colombia was in trouble, so she patched the call through to his mother. Soon Ayala started calling Rossbach as many as three or four times per day to chat.
According to several witnesses, Rossbach's attachment to Ayala was noticeable by early 1997. They recount long hushed conversations between the secretary and the killer. Sometimes Rossbach shut herself in the office of an absent prosecutor and picked up the phone.
Rossbach tersely describes her relationship with Ayala. "Over the years did you become friends?" one investigator asks. She replies, "Yes. As much friends as we could."
Vogel began to feel uneasy about Rossbach's relationship with the convict: "I felt as though she was on the phone with him too much. I asked her not to be on the phone that much with him." Rossbach's response, according to Vogel: "She would say things like, 'You know, he's not that bad of a guy.' ... I reminded her time and time again that the man was a murderer ... and that she shouldn't be on the phone with him as much as she was."
Sally Weintraub, another major- crimes prosecutor who shared Rossbach as a secretary, also complained about her conversations with Ayala: "I urged her not to spend so much time on the telephone because I felt that some work I had to have done was being neglected."
Other employees talked about Rossbach and Ayala. "It was told to me that she [Rossbach] was obsessed with him," said McMahan, the secretary who complained about Rossbach's threatened lawsuits. Another secretary, Joyce Allen, says it was common gossip among the secretaries that there was more between Rossbach and Ayala than friendship. A mailroom clerk at the SAO remembered cards from Ayala arriving for Rossbach.
Rossbach acknowledges buying colored pencils for Ayala, who fancied himself an artist. She also says she used about $70 of her own money to buy him coffee, dental floss, a pencil sharpener, and paper. But all of that, and the conversations they shared, were merely part of her attempt to keep Ayala content.
Then in fall 1997, Rossbach made a fateful move: She allowed her colleagues to speak with the killer when she was out of the office. Today Raquel Navarro and Barbara Molina-Abad probably wish they had never spoken to Ayala.
Like Rossbach, both Navarro and Molina-Abad were long-time SAO employees. Navarro, a pretty woman in her forties with wavy auburn hair, worked there nineteen years and her personnel record was spotless. For five years before her firing, she received outstanding evaluations. She also had a part-time job working some evenings as a parking attendant at the Miami Arena.
Molina-Abad, a heavy-set woman under a doctor's care for depression, worked in the office seventeen years, with spottier results, largely as a result of her medical condition. Her supervisors had concerns about her organizational and leadership abilities.