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3 officers, private detective accused of harassing sheik

KISSIMMEE - Three gun-toting Miami area police officers and a private detective have been arrested after confronting a flamboyant Saudi sheik over $14,000 in back wages, police said. The four men were charged with false imprisonment Sunday by Osceola sheriff's officials watching the Kissimmee homes rented by Sheik Mohammed al-Fassi, whose high-spending lifestyle has raised eyebrows from the Mideast to Beverly Hills.

Osceola Sheriff Jon Lane said the deputies were assigned to stake out the homes of the al-Fassi entourage after the sheik complained the men were harassing him for payment allegedly owed for past bodyguard work.

Lane said three of the men came to al-Fassi's door armed with pistols, and the other was in the car with a sawed-off shotgun.

Arrested were North Miami Police Officers Neal Cuevas, 35, and Frank Irvine, 32; South Miami Officer Vito Santangelo, 40; and private detective Ronald Raflowitz, 38.

The men, who said they provided protection for al-Fassi in their spare time, arrived at al-Fassi's home Sunday and demanded the money.

Al-Fassi said one of the men put a gun on a table and hinted they could harm his children if they were not paid, police said.

The men left when al-Fassi promised they would be paid by Tuesday.

But Osceola authorities decided to set a trap after receiving a call from al-Fassi's lawyer.

Al-Fassi called Cuevas' beeper. Cuevas returned the call and was told the men could have $5,000 right away.

"They got back about 12:30 p.m.," said Osceola Sgt. Dennis Weather. "I understand they had a flat tire, which is why it took them so long."

The men posted bail of $1,000 each Monday. They face a maximum of seven years in prison if convicted.

Santangelo was suspended without pay by the South Miami Police Department. Maj. David Romine said it is unclear whether Santangelo received proper permission to work for al-Fassi in his off-duty hours.

North Miami Police Chief Tom Flom approved of the outside bodyguard work of Cuevas and Irvine, who remained on the payroll pending further investigation, said Deputy Police Chief Donald Sjoland.

Al-Fassi made headlines in the early 1980s for a spate of controversies linked to his enormous wealth and jet-set lifestyle.

In Beverly Hills, Calif., he upset neighbors by painting genitalia red on outdoor statues at his mansion and placing plastic flowers in outdoor urns. The building was gutted by fire in 1980 and was razed in 1985.

Al-Fassi left South Florida about six years ago with a half-finished complex that included a private mosque, disco and bowling alley. He returned to Miami Beach in November and launched a campaign to save the homeless cats of the world, inviting people to drop off unwanted cats at his mansion.

In January, police and Humane Society investigators seized about 30 cats suspected of being mistreated from the grounds of the sheik's mansion.