Hidden camera records Coconut Creek cop receiving illegal 'massage'
By Tonya Alanez
Coconut Creek cop loses job over illegal 'massage'
Coconut Creek police chief rebukes problematic cop for 'poor judgment' in termination letter
Coconut Creek cop admits to illegal 'massage' at Boca Raton spa
This cop lied about the details of a marijuana arrest, failed to report how he tormented a suspect with his Taser, and claimed a three-hour lunch break lasted only one.
While his supervisors investigated his misdeeds, Coconut Creek Police Officer James Yacobellis kept drawing his nearly $90,000 annual salary. After 16 months of paid leave, they finally agreed to let him return to duty.
But within a year and a half, James Yacobellis was in trouble again.
It was a video-recorded massage — and its happy ending — that finally cost him his job.
The officer was caught in a sex act at the hands of a masseuse. Video obtained last week by the Sun Sentinel shows a man, features obscured, face down and naked on a massage table, a woman straddling his back. Her hand slips between his upper thighs, he reaches back and caresses her legs.
You knowingly and admittedly violated the law and engaged in immoral and inappropriate conduct, even after...having been issued disciplinary actions related to poor judgment.- Coconut Creek Police Chief Michael Mann wrote in a termination letter
The lights are dimmed when the man flips over, but the officer later admitted to police it was him, and that the masseuse masturbated him, according to internal affairs documents.
Videocameras were planted in June by Boca Raton police conducting a sting on O Asian Wellness Spa and Massage on Glades Road.
Yacobellis, 40, spent another three months on paid leave while the prostitution case was under investigation.
Charged with purchasing the services of a prostitute, he bypassed a criminal conviction by agreeing to attend a special program, but the incident ended his career with the Coconut Creek Police Department.
He was fired in November.
"The city has no choice but to terminate your employment," Chief Michael Mann wrote in a Nov. 6 letter. "Unfortunately, you knowingly and admittedly violated the law and engaged in immoral and inappropriate conduct, even after previously having been issued disciplinary actions related to poor judgment."
Mann declined comment Thursday.
The 13-year veteran is fighting the termination. An arbitration hearing has been scheduled for May.
"The reality is the video doesn't show what they're claiming it shows. It doesn't show anything as to what takes place," Yacobellis' attorney, Michael Braverman, said Thursday. "Yes, Mr. Yacobellis admitted to the misconduct, he said that he made the mistake, but it is what it is ... He'll have his day for arbitration."
Investigators watched the massage as it occurred. Afterward, an officer pulled Yacobellis over for a traffic stop to confirm his identity. He was one of about a dozen men stopped leaving the business between June 2 and 4.
When summoned to the Boca Raton Police Department on June 26, Yacobellis' story fluctuated from saying he could not discuss the massage "without possibly incriminating myself" to recalling that "when I turned over, if my memory serves me correct, she touched my genitals."
By the time the 10-minute interview had wrapped up, Yacobellis conceded that he did not ask for the sex act but did not try to stop it either.
"It was just a spur of the moment thing," he said. "It was fun. I realize I'm in a bit of trouble now."
He said he paid $70 for the June 2 massage and tipped the woman $30.
Yacobellis had returned to duty Feb. 20, 2013, after spending 16 months on paid leave while prosecutors investigated two incidents from the summer of 2011.
Prosecutors ultimately declined to file charges, citing the unlikelihood of proving a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. But his department concluded Yacobellis violated policy and meted out a two-week unpaid suspension.
The first inquiry was triggered by an allegation that Yacobellis falsified a police report when he said he activated his lights and sirens while trying to pull over two fleeing teens on June 16, 2011.
The teens admitted smoking marijuana and panicking when the police car drove by. They drove a short distance, ditched the car and ran. They said they never saw flashing lights or heard a siren.
Data from Yacobellis' patrol car, equipped with a camera that activates when the lights or siren are turned on, supported their claim. The agency disciplined Yacobellis for making an unjustified fleeing-and-eluding arrest.
Next came an accusation that Yacobellis omitted facts from a police report and possibly committed an assault while questioning a jewelry theft suspect on Sept. 19, 2011.
Wanting to question the 20-year-old suspect separately from his girlfriend, Yacobellis took him into a bathroom, ordered him to stand in a bathtub and turned on the sink faucet full blast so they couldn't be overheard.
The suspect later filed a complaint, saying Yacobellis threatened to stun him with the Taser in his kidneys, liver and shoulders.
A sergeant at the scene recalled seeing Yacobellis with the Taser in hand, but said it was pointed at the floor, not the suspect. He said Yacobellis told him: "I was telling Mr. Blake [Robinson] here how my report was going to read when he resists arrest and I tase him."
Yacobellis' report mentioned nothing about the bathroom incident. The department disciplined him for leaving one suspect unattended while he questioned another behind a closed door.
Prior to that, Yacobellis had six other internal affairs investigations. Only one was sustained, resulting in a September 2011 written reprimand for neglect of duty.
The incident involved Yacobellis' May 18, 2011, lunch break with fellow officer Lesley Eberly. She was also reprimanded.
They reported that their lunch break lasted an hour, but investigation documents showed the pair instead spent as long as three hours alone in a play room at a community center.
Yacobellis had been back on the force for 16 months when he got ensnared in the prostitution sting.
After receiving complaints about all-male clientele frequenting the business, police obtained a warrant allowing investigators to secretly enter the spa and plant four cameras, records show.
Investigators recorded Yacobellis as he parked his car and entered the spa about 5 p.m. on June 2, 2014. Another camera captured him paying cash at the front desk and yet another showed him on the massage table.
The massage began at 5:26 p.m. The lights went dim three minutes later. Yacobellis left the business at 5:57 p.m.
He told police that while he was face up, the woman, identified in a police report as Xiaoqin Li, 51, kissed him.
"Um, call me naïve or stupid, but I, I actually thought she genuinely liked me," he said. "She kissed me."
The sting also resulted in the arrest of Li, the alleged owner of the business, and two women who worked there. Li is free on bond, fighting money-laundering and prostitution-related charges.
Yacobellis told police he had visited the business about six or seven times but received only "legitimate" massages each time.
Although Yacobellis' face cannot be seen while he's on the massage table, Boca Raton Detective Ian Stubblefield, who participated in the surveillance, said in a sworn statement that Yacobellis was monitored from the moment he entered the business until he left.
As for what transpired while the lights were low, investigators were able to manipulate speed and lighting on the video to "determine through shadows ... and movements" what was occurring, Stubblefield said
They could see "movements that would indicate uh, frankly, a hand job," he said. "There's a specific movement that occurs with that."