June 28, 2010— -- A Florida teacher convicted of having sex with two of her students, was called a sexual predator today by a judge who sentenced her to 10 years in prison.
Stephanie Ragusa, wearing an orange jumpsuit, cried at one point during her sentencing hearing, but nodded her head in approval as Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe also imposed five years of sexual offender probation on the 31-year-old defendant.
"You were a teacher," Tharpe said. "And as parents, we place our trust in teachers to provide a safe environment in which our children can learn. You violated that trust in the worst imaginable way. You preyed on these young boys..."
The judge described Ragusa's demeanor during her court appearances as arrogant.
"You had a very lackadaisical attitude on your face, smiling, jovial," Tharpe said. "If I had to sum up your attitude in one word, it would be arrogance. I don't know as we stand here today that you truly appreciate the harm that you caused. I honestly believe, Ms. Ragusa, that you are a sexual predator. And I honestly believe that you are a danger to children in our community."
Ragusa, a former math teacher at Davidsen Middle School in Tampa, Fla., pleaded guilty in April to three counts of lewd and lascivious battery involving a 14-year-old boy, and two counts of having unlawful sex with a minor involving a 16-year-old student. The assaults occurred in 2008.
The prosecution described Ragusa as a master manipulator who sexually preyed on the most vulnerable teenage boys. Both boys she abused came from broken homes.
The defense, however, said Ragusa was remorseful, a mentally disturbed woman with no prior criminal history, and a victim of traumatic experiences in her life. They asked for probation and house arrest.
Tharpe sentenced her to the maximum according to a plea deal, 10 years in prison followed by five years of sex offender probation.
The sentence was imposed after the mother of one of the victims, a 14-year-old boy, told the court that she believes the former Davidsen Middle School teacher "maliciously" preyed on her son's emotional disabilities.
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"She had access to their charts as far as their emotional behaviors," the mother said. "That takes time for you to know and to actually plan it out. I feel that she was very conniving in picking these boys out and preying on them. She used that to manipulate them and seduce them."
Ragusa, whose hair was done in cornrows, was expressionless as the mother described how deeply the case affected her son.
"He has dealt with a lot of guilt," she said. "He feels that it was his fault that all of this is happening. He blames himself. He does not think it's funny. He's not bragging or boasting. He actually gets very offended at any type of taunting. … He suffers from depression, from being shy. He even got to the point where he became aggressive with everything, just wanting this all to go away."
The 14-year-old had been assigned to push Ragusa's wheelchair around school after she broke her foot. She told him he seemed shy and that she could help him overcome that, authorities said. The two had sex that afternoon in her apartment, the first of three sexual encounters authorities said spanned the school year that ended in May 2007.
The other victim, who is 16, had sex with Ragusa about 20 times, authorities said. The encounters continued even after she had been arrested and told to stay away from him. Assistant state attorney Rita Peters said Ragusa bought the boy clothing, named him executor of her will and professed her love in a letter that the state obtained.
A psychiatrist who evaluated Ragusa testified that she has bipolar and borderline personality disorders and is on antipsychotic medication. Ragusa told the court she is on five different medications. Borderline personality disorder manifests itself in delusions of grandeur and impulsive, risky behavior.
In April, she pleaded guilty to three counts of lewd and lascivious battery.
Before sentencing, Ragusa wept as she told the court that she took "full responsibility" for her actions.
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"I'm sincerely sorry for the pain and aggravation I have caused to the victims and their families," she said.
Ragusa has spent two years in jail. She would have faced 22 to 45 years in prison had a jury found her guilty of all the charges.