DADE CITY — Isa Blanford worked many years, for little pay and little recognition, rallying community support to help brighten the futures of east Pasco County's vulnerable children.
On Thursday, she came to court to testify against one such child who had chosen the wrong path.
Blanford's daughter, Victoria Marie Rivera, 24, was charged with robbing the adult video store on U.S. 301 where she worked as a clerk. Authorities said she concealed her face, armed herself with a handgun and barged into the store demanding wallets and money.
The surveillance camera at Dade 301 Adult Toys & Videos store caught the robbery on tape. The identity of the masked robber is unknowable — except to her mother.
Blanford testified that she learned of the March 31, 2008, holdup, and found a gun, bank deposit bag and Rivera's shirt in the trunk of her car, which she had let her daughter borrow. She wanted to see the surveillance video to prove to herself what she knew could not be true.
"I didn't believe that Victoria would have done it," she said. "And I wanted to see for myself."
But when Blanford watched the masked, hooded figure, waving a gun and moving around the store counter, she recognized the person beneath.
"Victoria has a very distinct way of standing," she said. "That's what I determined it on."
She was positive, she told the prosecutor, starting to cry.
A mother's love
Blanford is 50 now, in poor health. She has retired from her $25,000-a-year job with the county's housing authority. But for a long time, she could be found behind a desk in an old, one-room mobile home in Lacoochee that was converted to a community center. There, Blanford set up tutoring programs, solicited money to build playgrounds in the public housing projects and organized school supply drives and health fairs.
In 2003, the year a sheriff's deputy was killed in Lacoochee, the community's crime and poverty — and Blanford's efforts to alleviate them — got more notice. But it was always a battle to see that promises were kept.
Rivera, Blanford told the Times, started getting into trouble early. As a juvenile offender, Blanford said Rivera got many slaps on the wrist and never learned her lesson. Blanford said she was often accused of bad parenting. Their relationship has been rocky.
As an adult, records show, Rivera has been arrested on charges off larceny, marijuana possession and petty theft.
But that was only part of the time. When Rivera was on the straight and narrow, she helped her mother in her efforts.
"Victoria was right there with me," Blanford said. "She worked with those kids. She talked to those kids. It was like (she was) living a double life."
The jury on Thursday found Rivera guilty in the adult video store robbery. Besides Blanford's testimony and the evidence found in her car, another witness recognized the robber's voice as Rivera's.
Rivera will face a minimum of 10 years in prison (since she is convicted of using a gun in a crime) and a maximum of life when she is sentenced in May.
Blanford was not there for the verdict. She did not see Rivera tip her head down and sob, be handcuffed, fingerprinted and led away by the bailiffs.
But earlier, as she walked down from the witness stand, Blanford quietly said "I love you" to her daughter.