Top IRS criminal investigator from Miami dies after workout
BY JAY WEAVER The Miami Herald
Julio La Rosa’s rapid ascent from criminal investigator in South Florida to senior director at IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C., suddenly ended last week when he died of a suspected heart attack at 47, following a workout.
Julio La Rosa, IRS director of field operations for criminal investigations in the eastern United States. Provided by IRS
Photo BY JAY WEAVER
Born in Cuba, Julio La Rosa made his way to Miami as a teenager in 1979, after living with his family in Spain and New Jersey. His parents ran a laundromat near Little Havana, setting a lifetime example of hard work.
La Rosa completed his graduate degree in architecture at the University of Florida but could not find a steady job because of a recession, so he took an improbable detour into a career with the Internal Revenue Service.
La Rosa’s rapid ascent from criminal investigator in South Florida to senior director at IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C., suddenly ended last week when he died of a suspected heart attack at 47, following a workout. His funeral Mass and burial service will be held Thursday in Miami.
“His greatest attribute as a leader was that he made folks better at what they do every day,” said Rick Raven, acting chief of the IRS’ criminal investigation division in Washington.
La Rosa’s unexpected death on Jan. 3 was particularly painful for those close to him because he had come so far from his humble roots in Cuba — driven by dedication to family, country and the IRS.
“He had a lot of drive to live the American Dream, to become somebody,” said his first cousin, Conchita Grana, who was La Rosa’s godmother. Her two grown sons became godfathers to his two boys, Julian, 14, and Benjamin, 11.
As an only child, La Rosa was recognized early as a talented artist, Grana said. He graduated from La Salle High School and obtained an associate of arts degree from Miami-Dade Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University. He earned his master’s in architecture from UF in 1990.
With limited job prospects, La Rosa saw a classified ad for a position as a tax auditor for the IRS in South Florida. There, he met his future wife, Penelope, also an auditor.
La Rosa shined so much on the job that he was recruited by the IRS for its Criminal Investigation Division.
La Rosa quickly developed a reputation as a go-to investigator.
In 2002-03, La Rosa played a major role in helping rookie federal prosecutor Jeffrey Neiman break up an elaborate tax-fraud scam at Hollywood Greyhound Track.
“He took me under his wings and showed me how to put a criminal case together,” Neiman said. “What made him so special was that he was not only smart, he was practical. He cut through a lot of the nonsense right to the critical issue.”
La Rosa played an even bigger part in the feds’ successful prosecution of one of Miami’s original cable cowboys, Charles Hermanowski, founder of Americable. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to various offenses, including a tax-fraud scheme that had sought to avoid paying close to $20 million to the IRS.
Veteran federal prosecutor Michael Davis said La Rosa made the case against Hermanowski, who had fled to Australia.
“Julio went through well over 100 boxes of financial records like he was going through a map for a hidden treasure,” Davis said. “It was a huge case and he solved it.”
The honchos in Washington took notice: La Rosa soon rose to special agent in charge of the IRS’ field office in St. Paul, Minn.
Last fall, La Rosa was rewarded with a senior IRS position: director of field operations for the eastern United States.
Said Raven, the IRS’ criminal chief: “He really was our future.”
In addition to his wife and sons, La Rosa is survived by his mother, Maria Elena, of Miami.
A viewing will be held 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Funeral Home, 3344 SW Eighth St. A funeral Mass will be said 10 a.m. Thursday at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Miami, followed by the burial at Woodlawn Park North Cemetery.