Hawaii resident who aided federal investigation fights deportation
By Rob Perez
Advertiser Staff Writer
Dennis Rozetta says that as a confidential informant he risked his life to help the federal government nab a murderer.
Rozetta's assistance helped in capturing the killer in 2004, according to members of the task force involved. The assailant was convicted for his role in the execution-style shooting of a New York man in front of the victim's 7-year-old daughter.
But federal officials are now trying to deport the Hawai'i resident to his native Jamaica because he overstayed his visa and did not comply with a 2003 order to return to Jamaica.
Rozetta, 35, who is married to a U.S. citizen and has no criminal record, said he wonders why the government doesn't show him more consideration after he helped collar the killer, which he said exposed himself and his family to danger.
Rozetta said he believes authorities have reneged on a verbal agreement with him to help with his immigration problem in exchange for helping the task force in New York — something he said he only reluctantly agreed to do.
"This poor guy did everything asked of him," said Gary Singh, Rozetta's attorney. "He put his life on the line and helped the government."
A task force supervisor told The Advertiser last week that he did what he promised Rozetta: write a letter on his behalf.
The May 2009 letter said that Rozetta provided substantial assistance to the U.S. Marshals New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force throughout 2004 and that Rozetta's "diligence and efforts on our behalf were instrumental in the subject's capture."
Edward McMahon, the supervisory inspector, said he was only asked to write the letter, sent to Singh, last year.
"I really went out of my way to help (Rozetta) out," McMahon said. "I'm a man of my word."
It's not clear whether Rozetta's cooperation with the task force was brought to the attention of the immigration court at that time in an effort to resolve his visa problem. U.S. law permits law enforcement agencies to pursue a limited number of special visas for foreign nationals who are informants or witnesses crucial to solving major crimes.
Rozetta had hired a lawyer in New York while he was cooperating with the task force, but he said he wasn't certain what took place between the task force and the attorney.
In an e-mail to The Advertiser, the attorney, Jeffrey Gabel, said there was "no written confirmation of any discussions or promises made regarding (Rozetta's) cooperation."
That cooperation, however, is central to Rozetta's effort to fight the government's deportation order.
Rozetta said he's seeking asylum in the U.S. because he believes his life would be in danger if he's forced to return to Jamaica.
Singh is expected to file papers tomorrow formally requesting an immigration judge to grant Rozetta's request. Singh said he believes that will be the first time Rozetta's assistance to the task force will be brought before the court.
Rozetta said that a few years ago in New York a second suspect wanted in connection with the murder confronted him and warned him against cooperating with authorities. Rozetta said the suspect was armed with four pistols and was accompanied by two other armed men.
"You could see murder in his face," Rozetta said.
Rozetta's story was supported by his then-wife, Donna Rozetta, in a June 2009 affidavit that Singh plans to file as part of Rozetta's asylum request.
In the affidavit, Donna Rozetta said she was in New York for part of the time her then-husband was feeding information to the task force and saw him being threatened by the second suspect in the June 2002 murder in Queens, N.Y.
That second suspect is the person who authorities say actually shot the victim in the head. Rozetta said that the man, apparently suspecting that Rozetta was talking to authorities, was in Jamaica as recently as last year and threatened Rozetta's family there, including his mother.
The man who was convicted in the 2002 killing did not fire the gun, but he played a key role in the murder, prosecutors said.
He held the victim's arms behind his back and forced the victim to kneel outside the house they shared while the second suspect, also a roommate, fired the fatal shot, prosecutors said.
The captured man was convicted in 2006 in New York of second-degree murder and sentenced to 17 years to life in prison.
Rozetta, a top tennis player in Jamaica, said he knew both men in Jamaica, where they're also from, and occasionally saw them when he first went to New York around 2000 to play in professional tennis tournaments.
THREATS TO FAMILY
Rozetta's disclosure to The Advertiser that he was a confidential informant is the first time he has publicly revealed his role and is part of a last-ditch effort to stave off deportation. Rozetta said he told few people about his experience because the task force told him not to and because he feared for his and his family's safety, especially given that the alleged shooter is still at large.
Because of those safety concerns, The Advertiser, at the request of Rozetta and his current wife, Malia, is not naming the man convicted in the murder and the suspect still being sought by authorities.
Rozetta said he first began working for the task force in 2003, after arriving in New York from Hawai'i. He said he was headed to Jamaica to comply with the immigration judge's departure order, which required him to leave within 40 days.
During the New York stopover, Rozetta said, the task force contacted him and asked him to secretly gather information about the possible whereabouts of the two Jamaican men wanted for the 2002 murder.
Rozetta said he met with or spoke to each of the two suspects several times while working as an informant. Immediately after each contact, he said, he would report it to the task force.
Rozetta, who moved back to Hawai'i from New York in late 2005, has tried twice since the judge issued the deportation order to get court permission to stay in the country based on his marriages to U.S. citizens.
Both requests were denied.
"Mr. Rozetta's immigration case has undergone extensive review by an immigration judge and he has further exercised his right to appeal," U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a statement.
"During those proceedings, the courts consistently held Mr. Rozetta did not have a legal basis to remain in the United States. In cases where an individual has been ordered removed from the United States, it is ICE's responsibility to ensure that the order imposed by the court is carried out."
Kice would not comment further, citing privacy restrictions.
Marci Weinstein, a New York resident who took tennis lessons from Rozetta and opened her family's home to him while he was in New York, says she is angry the government is trying to deport him..
"I think it's mean, and it's an injustice," Weinstein said. "He went out of his way to help. He risked his life. Yet they're treating him like he's the criminal."