No one in Maryland government keeps a closer watch on public corruption than a blind man in Towson.
Just ask former Mayor Sheila Dixon, former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold and political operatives Julius Henson and Paul E. Schurick.
Each one of the convicted political luminaries have been on the receiving end of charges arising out of the careful probing of James I. Cabezas, the legally blind chief investigator for the Maryland State Prosecutor's office.
Cabezas, 66, was honored last week as the "Fraud Fighter of the Year" by the Maryland chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners for his three decades in an office that was started to investigate public corruption in Maryland.
"Jim has handled scores of investigations over the years, including those of city and state officials, assorted corrupt cops and sheriffs, county commissioners and bureaucrats," the chapter said.
Cabezas also investigated Linda Tripp's secret recordings of confidential phone calls with Monica Lewinsky in the scandal that threatened Bill Clinton's presidency.
A Highlandtown son of immigrant parents — his mother was from Chile, his father from Nicaragua — Cabezas graduated from City College and University of Baltimore before he started with the Baltimore Police Department in 1971.
The job began with a personal tragedy: As a rookie officer on foot patrol, Cabezas was called to a homicide. His father had been shot in the head, a crime that remains unsolved.
He soon was recruited to abandon his identity and work undercover as a cabdriver and a longshoreman to investigate organized crime on the waterfront and on The Block, the city's adult entertainment district.
Only three police officials knew his true identify. His cover story included being kicked out of the police department for bribery — just the type of offense he would start investigating full time in 1977 when he joined the Maryland State Prosecutor's Office.
Cabezas has Stevens Johnson Syndrome, a rare progressive eye disorder caused by an allergic reaction to penicillin. He became chief investigator in 1984, a position he still holds today.
"Jim has not let the progression of this disease stop him one bit," the award certificate states.
No one knows that more than Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt, who said Cabezas is "hard charging" but also patient, a necessary skill to keep confidential investigations out of the public eye until a case is made.
"Jim is one of the most dedicated people I've ever worked with," Davitt said. "We were all thrilled he won the award. We couldn't think of someone who was more worthy of it."