Big Daddy Denial
Back in 1989, when Rolando Bolaños, Jr., was seventeen years old, he was arrested and convicted of trying to break into a Fort Lauderdale Cadillac dealership. To reduce his sentence, Rollie, as he is known, cooperated with a police task force investigating a ring of car thieves. He met with detectives numerous times, and in December 1989 testified in federal court against the group's adult leaders. All the while he was living with his father, Rolando Bolaños, Sr., who was then and is now Hialeah's police chief.
When prosecutors questioned Chief Bolaños in July 1999 about Junior's arrest, he denied knowing anything about it. A lot was at stake. Rollie became a Hialeah cop in 1997, but didn't mention his conviction on his application form -- grounds for termination. If the chief knew about his son's past and allowed his hiring, at minimum he was violating departmental procedure. One might even conclude he lied under oath.
Indeed a half-dozen other witnesses, including friends, colleagues, even the chief's wife, told the State Attorney's Office last summer that Bolaños Sr. knew plenty about his son's misdeeds. According to one confidant, the chief even worried the arrest would thwart Rollie's chance to become a police officer.
Prosecutors took the witnesses' sworn statements last July, while investigating brutality complaints against Rollie and his brother Daniel, also a Hialeah police officer. The men are scheduled to be tried soon on charges of battery and official misconduct. (While on duty in 1998, they allegedly beat up a Hialeah man.)
Despite Chief Bolaños's apparent mendacity, it's clear he won't be sitting at a defense table any time soon. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle says her office won't charge the chief with perjury. Although she refrains from drawing a conclusion about truthfulness, she explains the law allows prosecutors to charge a defendant with perjury only if a lie might affect the outcome of a case.
Prosecutor William Altfield recently briefed Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez about the chief's statements. "It's up to the mayor to do what, if anything, is appropriate," Fernandez Rundle adds. Martinez declined to comment.
But John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association and a long-time foe of Bolaños, Martinez, and Fernandez Rundle, says the chief is receiving special treatment. "If this were anybody other than Rolando Bolaños, I guarantee you they would be charged with perjury," Rivera fumes.
Before interviewing Bolaños Sr., Altfield, or someone present, required the chief to recite a law-enforcement mantra, "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?" Presumably he answered in the affirmative. Then the interview began.
Altfield: Were you aware that Rolando Bolanos, Jr., was arrested in Broward County?
Chief Bolaños: No, sir.
Altfield: Not at all?
Chief Bolaños: Not at all
Altfield: Were you aware that he had any contact whatsoever with the law-enforcement community regarding allegations of auto theft?
Chief Bolaños: No, sir.
Altfield: Were you aware that Rolando Bolanos, Jr., was arrested and convicted on July 7 of 1989 for burglary of a structure or conveyence[sic], possession of burglary tools, grand theft auto, and loitering and prowling? Were you aware that he was arrested and convicted for any of those charges?
Chief Bolaños: No, sir.
Altfield: Were you aware that Rolando Bolanos, Jr., was a witness in a federal case involving an auto theft ring that exported automobiles out of the country?
Chief Bolaños: No, sir.
Altfield: Did you have any contact with a Det. R. Suess with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department?
Chief Bolaños: Yes, but not for auto theft.
Altfield: What did you speak to him about?
Chief Bolaños: One night when I was with my wife at home ... we received a call from Fort Lauderdale to the effect that they had picked up Rolando with some other kids and that they were suspected of attempting to trespass into some location. I gave the phone to my wife and said, 'You deal with this.' I got up and I went to work.... [At work] my wife called me and said, 'They need to talk to you.' And I came home and they said that he was involved with a group of individuals and I do not recall them talking to me about auto theft.... As far as I know he's never been arrested. I don't even know if he's testified or provided testimony."
Altfield then asked the chief whether he knew that Daniel had mentioned Rollie's car-theft arrest on a Hialeah Gardens Police Department application form. The chief explained it away.
Chief Bolaños: [Daniel] told me that he thought that Rollie had been arrested in 1992. And I asked him: 'Who did you get that from?' And he said, 'Don't you remember a time when he took your car,' which is my Firebird, 'and you waited for him? And when he came into the house, you told him that was auto theft and that he could be charged with that.' And I said, 'Son, he wasn't arrested for that.'
Rollie indeed was arrested early on April 12, 1989. An account of that morning's events emerged from the sworn statements of several people. Among them:
David Ecklund, a Fort Lauderdale Police sergeant who supervised Rollie's arrest
Altfield: Did you ... make contact with the Bolaños family?
Ecklund: [I] made a call to the family advising of the arrest of their son ... somewhere after or about six [in the morning].
Obdulia Bolaños, the chief's wife and Rollie's mother
Mrs. Bolaños: I was awakened by a phone call.
Altfield: Who answered the phone?
Bolaños: I believe it was my husband.... I really don't remember much. It was a long time ago. I recall that obviously he was -- it was from officers and shortly thereafter he got up and left ... to work.... They were bringing Rollie down. I guess he [Bolaños Sr.] told me that. When the [police arrived at the house with Rollie] they asked for [Bolaños Sr.] and I said, 'He's not here. He went to work.' And then they asked me to please summon him to the house.
Nannette Carnevale, Chief Bolaños's secretary at the Hialeah Police Department
Carnevale: I know that the chief at one point had to leave the office and advised me that he was going out. I received information that it was in reference to an auto theft and that it was high school kids. And Roly[sic] was in high school and --
Altfield: And this information that you received, was that from the chief?
Carnevale: Very briefly, yes.
Altfield: He told you, 'Nan, I got to go. Roly was arrested for an auto theft,' something to that effect?
According to the court file, Fort Lauderdale Det. Russell Suess drove to the Bolaños home with Rollie. Miami-Dade Dets. Les Cravens and John Pierce, who were investigating a series of auto thefts in Miami-Dade County, also headed to the chief's house.
Suess: We were going there to explain to the chief the circumstances of the arrest of his son. And to obtain further permission to use his son in a further investigation into other auto-theft cases.
Altfield: Was the chief there when you first arrived?
Suess: I think he came in right behind us.
Altfield: Did you sit down and have a discussion with him?
Suess: Yes we did.... We advised him [that] Rolando Jr. and two other individuals were arrested for the charge at that time, I believe, prowling and burglary.
Altfield: What else did you tell him?
Suess: That his son had admitted to us that he had been involved in a large ring of auto thefts where they would steal cars specifically for Dominican individuals, who would sell the cars for roughly $1000 apiece. And the son had told us, and this is the story related to the chief, how he would wake up at 2:00 in the morning, sneaking out his bedroom window and make sure he was back before 5:00 a.m., because he knew his father was an early riser.
Det. Les Cravens confirmed the others' accounts.
Cravens: When I walked in the father was present, the mother was present.... Basically it was explained ... that their son had been arrested in Fort Lauderdale.
Altfield: Did they advise him what their son was arrested for?
Cravens: Yes. Absolutely.
The chief even gave his business card to Detective Suess. Ten years later Suess still had it handy and gave it to Altfield. On the back was a handwritten note: "Thank you for getting out of your way. Sorry for any problems caused you and the residents of Fort Lauderdale. RB."
Obdulia Bolaños: [My husband, Rollie, and the three police officers] sat down to speak and I went to the kitchen and made some coffee... At one point my husband got up and left and told me, you know, he had given permission, if you will, for Rollie to cooperate with the officers.
Luis Diaz, the administrative sergeant to Chief Bolaños's office between 1990 and 1994, also provided testimony in the case. A close friend of the Bolaños family, he was promoted to lieutenant in 1994.
Altfield: During the course of your relationship with the chief and his family, did you have a discussion at their home about specifically Rolando Jr.'s legal problems, as far as being arrested?
Diaz: I recall one conversation that comes to mind about the chief questioning the fact that Rolley[sic] might [not] be able to become a police officer because of an arrest he had as a juvenile for a stolen vehicle.
Altfield: Did the chief believe that his son, Rolando Jr., could [not] be a police officer because of this arrest for a stolen vehicle?
Diaz: He questioned, at the time, that he was going to be able to be a police officer.
After prosecutors closed their case against the chief, they alerted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, which certifies police officers. That's not likely to have much effect. The commission has the same perjury standards as the State Attorney's Office.
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