Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Woman suing T-Mobile store employee who stole sex video from phone

PINELLAS PARK — Keely Hightower thought the T-Mobile store employee was taking too long with her phone, so she looked through her apps after she left, just in case.

Everything seemed normal until she checked her email the next day. Instead of opening to her inbox, it directed her to the trash folder, where she saw an unfamiliar email sent from her account with an attachment.

When she opened the file that day in May, "my heart dropped," Hightower, 24, told the Tampa Bay Times this week.

It was a video she kept on her phone of her engaging in sex acts with someone in bed. Parts of her face were visible in some frames, she said.

The recipient email address looked familiar enough for her to realize who had sent it: Roberto Aramis Sanchez Ramos, the employee at the T-Mobile store at 9600 66th St. N in Pinellas Park who had worked on her phone the day before. She called police. Sanchez Ramos pleaded guilty to a computer offense charge and was sentenced to six months in jail.

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Now, Hightower is suing him and Global Innovative Group, the Tampa company that operates the store, for negligence, claiming the invasion of privacy last year caused her mental anguish and emotional distress among other things.

"It’s a question of how do you address the really gross invasion of her privacy and the turmoil that she’s had to deal with ever since?" said Christopher Klemawesch, Hightower’s St. Petersburg-based lawyer. "That’s what we’re trying to address."

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A representative of Global Innovative Group referred a reporter to the owner, who did not return a request for comment. Sanchez Ramos, who was released from the Pinellas County Jail in October, could not be reached for comment.

But court records show he had been in trouble before while working in retail, even, according to police, defrauding another T-Mobile store.

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In 2013, he was arrested on a grand theft charge after police said he stole two iPads from a Walmart in Largo while working in maintenance at the store. He participated in a pre-trial diversion program in that case, court records show.

About three years later, Sanchez Ramos, 26, pleaded guilty to scheming to defraud a T-Mobile store in Largo. According to police, he initiated fake returns on products customers bought with cash, then used the cash to buy accessories from the store to inflate his sales and increase his commission. He was still on probation for that charge when police arrested him in Hightower’s case.

To Hightower and her lawyer, it’s unacceptable that Sanchez Ramos was working at the T-Mobile in Pinellas Park to begin with.

"It’s not just the actions of one person," Klemawesch said. "It’s the actions, or the failures, of the company as well."

The most nerve-wracking part of the ordeal for Hightower, a Pinellas Park resident and receptionist at an ophthalmologist’s office, is that it took her about a day to realize what had happened. She doesn’t know what Sanchez Ramos did with the video during that time.

"My thought was just like where did the video go? What happened after that?" she said. "That was my main concern ... I didn’t want the video out there in the public." PEOPLE ALSO READING: Judge orders lawyer to take drug test after ‘bizarre’ court behavior

She still doesn’t know, she said. But what did become public, and bloom across news outlets and social media, was the story of Sanchez Ramos’ arrest. While no news reports appear to have named Hightower, coworkers who knew she was a regular customer at the store asked if it was her.

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And she noticed some people posting comments asking why she had the video on her phone in the first place, questions Klemawesch called victim-blaming.

"Your email is on your phone, people store their bank information on their phone, people do work over their phone," he said. "The question is not why did she have this on her phone. The question is why is this store employing this person and allowing him to access her private materials?"

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Hightower is not alone in her plight. In 2012, two employees of a Verizon Wireless store in Bartow were arrested after police said they took nude photographs from a woman’s phone. Last year, a woman sued a company that operates a T-Mobile store near Miami saying an employee sent himself explicit photos and videos from her phone, then showed them to coworkers.

While the experience has been harrowing for Hightower, the backlash has showed her the importance of staying true to herself, she said.

"Don’t let other peoples’ opinion betray who you are," she said.

Senior staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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