I first met Roberto “Robby” Jimenez (not his real name) in 1994 when he was a Detective who needed some intel on a sensitive target. Since I knew Brooklyn much better than Robby, a proud son of Union City, New Jersey, he persuaded me to accompany him on some night-time reconnaissance work. Parked in a car for hours on darkened Brooklyn streets tends to lead to looong conversations and it was soon apparent we viewed the political landscape through different lenses. Or as Robby would frame it, “Face it, Joe, you’re a hippy Commie.” To which I’d reply, “Shut up, Robby, you ignorant slut.”
I think our common Catholicism and Mets/Jets suffering gave us a faster path to mutual acceptance, but truth be told, we never let politics define who we were, let alone our work. In law enforcement everybody ultimately sees themselves on the same side: defend the weak, take down the bad guys. Of course there were some exceptions, like the mobbed-up corrupt NYPD Lieutenant we were then surveilling. He was code-named BLT for Bad Lieutenant (belated apologies to Harvey Keitel). The side he took depended on who had more cash.
After BLT, Robby and I worked other interesting cases. One of them involved the mysterious disappearance of two tenants in an old brick building near the Fulton Seaport. Suspicion fell upon their onery landlord until he too disappeared, much to the delight of the tabloids, leading to the assignment of the most Detectives in NYPD history.
But that’s a story from another time, when you could still buy a plane ticket at the boarding gate.
On 9/11 Robby Jimenez was coming out of the Holland Tunnel just after Mohammed Atta murdered his passengers and doomed 1,400 others in the south tower. Robby pulled over and began assisting first responders. Suddenly all the criminal investigations we worked on didn’t seem so important.
For instance at 5PM one New Year’s Eve we found ourselves in a glass and steel tower overlooking Times Square executing a search warrant against some corporate crooks. There was a terrorist threat against the throngs we watched below us, growing ever larger, as we waited for the warrant to be amended. The careless prosecutors had specified the evidence was on the 44th floor but the computer server, where all the goodies resided, was on the 43rd.
For those of you who believe cops have no scruples, here is some evidence to the contrary, although admittedly a small sample size: as the hours slowly passed, not a single Detective argued we should stroll down the stairway connecting the two floors and clone the network server so we could all get the hell out of there. Sure, we wanted nothing more than to welcome the new year with our loved ones. However, like Meat Loaf, we would do anything for love, but unlike BLT we would not do that, even after we learned the warrant couldn’t be amended because the prosecutors were all out partying. We eventually found a PC that wasn’t password-protected and used it to legally siphon all the financial data from the server a floor below. A painstakingly slow process.
We didn’t finish until 3AM but we did manage to enjoy some auld lang syne beers at a cop bar near Foley Square well after the last call.
That’s when Robby told us he was going to take some deal for reservists who returned to active duty but could still collect their cop paycheck. He said it was all about making more money, but we knew the real reason: he wanted to make more of a difference.
His official title was Senior Chief Petty Officer, United States Navy, and he held a position he would later describe in his LinkedIn profile as “operational manager of a strategic level unit.” HaHaHa! In fact Robby was a member of the United States Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams – a SEAL. We fell out of touch, but there’d be occasional updates, like a photo of Robby in a Humvee surrounded by a gaggle of kids in some brown rocky landscape.
Years later out of the blue I got an email from him via a super-secret-y channel while I was working in a secret-y FBI corner.
He was stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Khost in Afghanistan and he needed some intel on a sensitive target he was going to meet in a nearby village the next day. Believe it or not we found that the target had left some deep footprints in Detroit. Good for Robby to know when the villager pretended to be a purely local yokel.
Pretty soon, we had a regular electronic correspondence going back and forth until one day in late April 2011, he sent a message that he was going offline for a while but not to worry. A few days later bin Laden met his maker and Robby broke his silence. He wanted to send me an American flag that had been flown for 9 minutes and 11 seconds at the FOB. But our correspondence had come to the attention of the over-seers who monitored super-secret-y traffic. After some serious ‘splaining, we henceforward had to stick to our own “comms chains.”
During multiple tours Robby rarely saw the sea but he made it home safe, unlike 30 of his SEAL brothers who died in Afghan combat before Navy brass returned special operations units to their “maritime roots.” The last time I saw him he was giving a training lecture at Fort Hamilton. He was back in law enforcement about to start a dangerous undercover assignment. We had an adult beverage in Bay Ridge and I hugged him goodbye.
“Thanks for your service, Robby,” I said.
And Robby replied, “I did it just for you, Joe, you hippy Commie bastard.”