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Longtime chief investigator for state prosecutor's office retires

Longtime chief investigator for state prosecutor's office retires
James Cabezas, chief investigator for the state's special prosecutor, continues to do his job though legally blind, unable to drive or even cross a street. Cabezas' computer is outfitted with voice applications. Typing in information is alright if the contrast is good. (Jed Kirschbaum / Baltimore Sun)

Two government officials in Maryland may breathe a little easier now that the longtime chief investigator for the state prosecutor's office has retired.

The office dedicated to rooting out government corruption in Maryland has estimated it will launch two fewer investigations for 2017, the first year in nearly four decades that the state agency will conduct probes without chief investigator James I. Cabezas.

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Cabezas laughed at the suggestion that those estimates were related to his retirement Tuesday. But State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt made it clear that the 67-year-old former Baltimore police officer will be a difficult act to follow.

"We will be attempting to replace him," Davitt said. "He's probably the most dedicated individual I've ever worked with. Over the years, state prosecutors have come and gone, but Jim has been the face of the office."

Davitt said Cabezas has contributed to every major investigation the office has undertaken, including the high-profile prosecutions of former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Democrat, and former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, a Republican.

A Highlandtown son of immigrants — 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. During his rookie year, his father was shot in the head, a homicide that remains unsolved.

Cabezas went undercover in the city's adult entertainment district and the waterfront to determine whether Mafia families controlled any of the crime in Baltimore. The answer: "No."

"Organized crime folks didn't think they could get beyond the body politic" in Maryland, he said.

It was an ironic finding at a time when public corruption was rampant in Maryland. The General Assembly established the Office of State Prosecutor in 1977.

Cabezas, who has a rare progressive eye disorder that has rendered him legally blind, became chief investigator in 1984 — a job he held until Tuesday, when the office held a low-key luncheon in his honor.

"That was at his request," Davitt said. "We wanted to do something larger."

The humble sendoff was fitting.

"Not only has Jim been an outstanding Chief Investigator and an excellent mentor to countless younger investigators over the years, he's just a wonderful person," Davitt said. "He never forgets that he is here to serve the public."

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