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An appellate court overturned the conviction of a former organized crime detective who lost her job after she was convicted of perjury when testifying about her sexual relationship with a mobster who later turned up dead on the shore of Miami Beach. The 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled on Wednesday that the three counts of perjury for which Miami-Dade police officer Roslyn Vargas was convicted related to statements that were “not material” to the underlying investigation into the murder of Aniello “Neil” Napolitano. The court did not take a position on whether Vargas actually lied. Instead, the three-judge panel addressed the prosecution’s failure to ask the kinds of questions that would have elicited factual accounts. The court noted that during the murder investigation, Vargas was asked about her opinion on her relationship with Napolitano. It noted that perjury must be “one of fact, and not of opinion or belief.” “Whatever she did, she did not lie, and that’s what this case was about,” contends her lawyer Joel Kaplan, a solo Miami attorney. Assistant attorney general Steven R. Berger, who prosecuted the case, declined to comment. In 1995, Vargas had gone undercover to build a criminal case against Napolitano, who was suspected of murder and steroid trafficking. Soon after that, Napolitano’s body parts washed ashore in Miami Beach. According to published reports, police believed the Mafia put a contract on him because he was involved with a police officer. During a police internal affairs investigation following the murder, Vargas admitted traveling to Orlando with Napolitano and having a sexual relationship with him. Allegations of perjury cropped up in the course of questioning about her relationship with Napolitano. Then Vargas changed her story. In a sworn statement to prosecutors investigating the murder, Vargas said her relationship with Napolitano was for work purposes. She also claimed Napolitano held her against her will and forced her to have sex. Vargas said her meetings with Napolitano were, “in her mind,” related to work. She was tried in June 1999 for perjury. During the widely publicized trial, the prosecution presented the jury with pictures of the frolicking couple at Disney World. In September 1999, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick sentenced Vargas, at the time a 16-year police veteran, to 60 days in jail for lying about her relationship with Napolitano. Her sentence was stayed pending the outcome of the appeal. In ruling on Vargas’ appeal, the 3rd DCA focused on how prosecutors posed questions to Vargas about her relationship with Napolitano. The court held that the questions as asked “did not call for a factual response and the crime of perjury does not encompass expressions of opinion.” The court said her statements were “grounded in [her] perceptions at the time and not on empirical fact.” “She was talking about her feelings,” says Kaplan. “It wasn’t perjurious.” Since being fired from the police department, Vargas has gone back to school, Kaplan says. He declined to say where or what she’s studying.

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