Ronnie Rosenbluth is the founder and until last month the president of the Shomrim patrol group, now in the news since a city councilman intervened with Mayor Catherine Pugh and secured the group a $50,000 Chevy Tahoe using public slots funds.
But Rosenbluth, as Northwest Baltimore insiders know, is also the older cousin of that councilman, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer.
That relationship is just one example of the close ties between the freshman 5th district councilman and the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch group.
In interviews with The Brew and other news organizations, Schleifer has portrayed his interest in Shomrim as simply an outgrowth of his concern for public safety and longstanding devotion to volunteer service in his community.
But the connections run much deeper, stretching beyond familial ties to political donations, coordinated publicity, special entrée to Baltimore police officials, and a business relationship between the group and Schleifer’s fundraising company, Raffle Ready.
Schleifer says he isn’t – and never has been – a member of Shomrim. Asked why he was then given a certification of appreciation as a “Baltimore Shomrim dispatcher” by the San Francisco Police Department, Schleifer said this:
“There was a period of time, I guess, when they needed some more dispatchers, and I volunteered for a lot of organizations and that is one of the things I had volunteered to do.” (All members of Shomrim are unpaid volunteers, according to its website.)
Asked what years he had dispatched for Shomrim, Schleifer said, “I would have to go back and look.”
Pressed further, he said it would be incorrect to say that he had dispatched for Shomrim for “a few years,” then said he probably did dispatch “for a couple years.”
Because he was so busy with other community activities, he said he stopped dispatching by the time that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby hired him in August 2015 as her Northwest community representative.
“With dispatching,” he pointed out, “it’s not a consistent situation, it’s more like an as-needed thing.”
He then hung up and ended the interview.
A person with knowledge of Shomrim’s operations told The Brew: “Yitzy did go out on calls. He responded to dispatch calls, so for him to say he was never a member of Shomrim means that nobody was a member.”
City Ethics Code
Article 8, subtitle 6-6 (“prohibited participation”) of the Baltimore City Code says a public official may not participate and must disqualify himself “from any matter” if the official “has an interest in the matter” or if “a disqualifying relative has an interest in the matter.”
For example, a public official may not participate in the arranging or approval of a city contract in which either the official or a relative “is a partner, officer, director, trustee, employee or agent” of the receiving entity.
Shomrim of Baltimore is a not-for-profit organization started by Ronnie Rosenbluth and his brother, Michael Rosenbluth, in February 2006. It accepts public donations and can receive public funds. Before Schleifer was a councilman, the group received $7,000 in slots funds to buy uniforms and flashlights for its members, according to documents from the Pimlico Community Development Authority (PCDA).
Ten percent of the $7,000, however, was to be allocated for diversity and sensitivity training as a result of the 2012 trial of Eliyahu Werdesheim and his brother Avi.
A Shomrim members on patrol, Eliyahu was convicted of wrongful imprisonment and assault after he, Ari and a third Shomrim member beat a black teenager. Eilyahu allegedly shouted to the boy during the beating, “You don’t belong here.”
A Baltimore judge subsequently cut Werdesheim’s sentence in half and granted him probation before judgment so he could apply to law school without a criminal record.
The case roiled the African-American and Jewish communities in Northwest Baltimore and drew accusations of vigilante justice and comparisons with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.
Before hanging up on The Brew, Schleifer argued that the trial gave Shomrim a black eye that wasn’t deserved.
“For people who want to honestly look at the situation,” he said, “You have a group that’s been around for around 13 years and they have one incident where there was a Shomrim member who was thrown out of the organization that day because that’s how strict are their rules.”
A video on Shomrim’s website describes the organization’s value to the Orthodox community, noting among other things its discretion: “There are many times when the phone call that comes in from a community member is of a sensitive nature,” says member Nathan Willner, starting at 5:40. “[It] may have to do with their spouse, their children, things that they may not want to be put out in the public domain. And Shomrim treats this information with confidentiality and sensitivity to make sure that the victim is always protected.”
Since receiving the appreciation award in 2012, Schleifer has repeatedly allied himself with Shomrim’s patrol activities and touted his “law-and-order” credentials in his underdog campaign to become the 5th District Councilman last year.
Shomrim members were strongly behind his candidacy.
Four Shomrim officials – Rosenbluth, Michael Diamond, Nathan Willner and Ezri Klein – contributed $2,065 to Schleifer’s campaign, according Maryland Election Board records.
What’s more, Rosenbluth donated his Reisterstown Road eatery, Tov’s Pizza, to his cousin to use for meetings and other activities during the campaign.
“This isn’t a pizza place where people talk politics,” Schleifer joked to Baltimore magazine after his surprise primary victory over Betsy Gardner. “It’s a political clubhouse that sells pizza.” (Tov’s Pizza also received a momentary burst of publicity when Rosenbluth hired disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff after his 2010 release from prison.)
Since assuming office a year ago, Schleifer has showcased his crime-fighting prowess in conjunction with Shomrim patrols.
Typical of a dozen or so articles and TV reports about Shomrim’s efforts to catch juvenile carjackers in Northwest Baltimore was this online headline in the Baltimore Jewish Times:
“Update as of Apr. 24 9:27 AM – Schleifer & Shomrim Save The Day.”
In the last month alone,
Schleifer arranged for a meeting between Shomrim and Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, talked at a Police Department press conference about increase police patrols in Northwest Baltimore, and hosted Mayor Pugh at a banquet where Pugh and Schleifer publicly announced the “gifting” of the Chevy Tahoe vehicle.
The interactions between the councilman and the patrol group extend into fundraising.
Schleifer is the co-founder and 50% owner of Raffle Ready, a Pikesville company that is cited as a source of his non-city income in a recent filing with the Baltimore Ethics Board.
A sponsor of many Shomrim activities, including the banquet attended by Mayor Pugh, the company appears to have built and is maintaining the company’s website. The shomrim.net site is described as “powered by Raffle Ready.”
Whether Raffle Ready receives any fee or other income from Shomrim for website work – or for the raffle tickets that Shomrim sells on the website – could not be determined by The Brew.
A series of questions about Raffle Ready sent to the councilman have not been answered.
Shomrim’s most recent 990 tax forms to the Internal Revenue Service – covering 2013, 2014 and 2015 – show that the group raised $16,703 from “gaming and fundraising events” and spent $7,701, or 46%, on fundraising expenses.
The IRS reports show that the patrol group has suffered steadily eroding levels of support from the public outside of its gaming events.
In 2009, gifts, grants, contributions and membership fees totaled $24,345, Shomrim reported to the IRS. By 2015, the yearly total had dropped to under $10,000, requiring the group to dip into some of its reserve funds and property assets.
In the context of shrinking revenues, City Hall’s gift of a new $50,000 patrol vehicle appears to be a timely addition to Shomrim’s bottom line.