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Hillsborough teacher to boy: What we did is illegal

Ex-teacher Stephanie Ragusa, shown at her Friday court hearing, has been arrested three times since March.

CARRIE PRATT | Times

Ex-teacher Stephanie Ragusa, shown at her Friday court hearing, has been arrested three times since March.

TAMPA — Stephanie Ragusa, the teacher who smiled in mug shots after being accused of having sex with two male students, feared ending up in jail in an orange jumpsuit.

She said so to one of the boys in a recorded phone call March 12, a day before she was charged with having sex with him three times during the 2006-07 school year.

"Well, like, what exactly that we did was wrong, though?" he asked.

"It's illegal," she said.

Later, she added, "It's kind of like one of those things you have to take to the grave."

A transcript of the 17-minute phone call, set up by Hillsborough detectives, became public Thursday along with further details gathered during the investigation into Ragusa's actions.

Her attorney, Robert Herce, failed to convince a judge this week that releasing the contents of the call to news outlets would prevent his client from getting a fair trial. He did not return a call for comment Thursday.

During the call, Ragusa said she disagreed with society's views on such a relationship. But she knew her friends and family wouldn't approve.

"It's like a real old guy going after really young girls, you know?" Ragusa said. "It's creepy. That's what they would see it as."

Authorities say the boy in the phone call was one of Ragusa's seventh-grade students at Davidsen Middle School. He was 14 when they met. She was 27.

He pushed her around school in a wheelchair after she hurt her foot. One day, he said, she told him she could break his shyness. She took him that afternoon to her apartment, where they had sex, he said.

The other two sexual encounters took place in her Lexus sport utility vehicle, the last time after a school dance on May 4, 2007.

Maribel DeLeon remembers Ragusa showing up that night at her eighth-grade daughter's after-party in a miniskirt and tank top. DeLeon's husband made Ragusa pour out her wine cooler before coming inside. She introduced herself as a teacher, then hung out with students until the party ended at 2 a.m.

"I immediately thought that something was going on with her and some students, but because I didn't see it myself, I didn't say anything," DeLeon said Thursday.

Authorities didn't learn anything was amiss until this March, when a student alerted Davidsen officials that Ragusa had been sexually involved with students.

The male victim in the recorded phone call initially denied that anything inappropriate had occurred but recanted when asked to write a statement.

By then, Ragusa had transferred to Martinez Middle School but was on medical leave.

During a March 13 interview with detectives, she denied any sexual activity with her students.

Her live-in boyfriend had warned her not to choose teaching as a profession because of allegations like these, she said.

Ragusa waited for her boyfriend to go to sleep March 12 before she returned a call to the teenager, who had left her text messages and a voice mail under the direction of detectives.

The teen pushed her to acknowledge details of their encounters. She said she was trying to watch a movie and never spoke specifics.

When pressed, she said her involvement with the teen had been "fun."

But she warned him of the consequences if people found out. There was no statute of limitations for crimes involving children, she said. And if she got locked up and then something happened to her father, she worried that her disabled brother would be all alone.

"It's no joke, I'm telling you, either end," she said. "I don't want to wear an orange jumpsuit, and … you couldn't leave your house without someone trying to shove a camera in your face."

Ragusa remains jailed — wearing an orange jumpsuit — on multiple counts of lewd or lascivious battery and unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Authorities say she also had sex about 20 times with a different teenage boy, including an encounter after her first two arrests.

In mid March, a teacher at Davidsen confiscated a note from students that suggested there were more victims, reports show. But none of the students in the note admitted having sex with Ragusa.

Asked by the boy on the recorded call if she had sex with any other students, Ragusa said no.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Excerpts from conversation

Excerpts from Ragusa's March 12 phone call with a former student. To read the full transcript, go to tampabay.com.

• • •

Ragusa: "It's illegal."

Boy: "Oh."

Ragusa: "It would be all over the news and everything."

Boy: "Oh, like that one Debra Lafave thing?"

Ragusa: "Yeah."

• • •

Boy: "What part do you remember about it?"

Ragusa: "I don't know. It was fun."

• • •

Ragusa: "I don't even like talking about it on the phone. … I get paranoid about it. Those, you know, people — people look to take you down. People like drama, you know? Look at freaking tabloids, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, and all that stupid s---."

• • •

Ragusa: "I mean, I'm not going to tell anybody. Who am I gonna tell, my dad? He'd look at me different. If I told anybody I knew, even my friends or anything, they'd all look at me different. They would look at it as like a pervert or perversion, you know?"

• • •

To read the full transcript, go to tampabay.com

Hillsborough teacher to boy: What we did is illegal 05/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 15, 2008 11:08am]
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