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Man accused of raping pregnant teen is acquitted

DADE CITY — Even Steven Van Wart admitted it didn't look good.

He was 41 when he said he had consensual sex with a pregnant 18-year-old last year — a woman half his age, whose wrists and ankles he tied up first, who he was willing to pay for sex.

"I was kind of embarrassed by it," he told the jury Friday morning. "Just the age difference and the freakiness of it, that's it."

The jury believed him. The panel of three men and three women acquitted Van Wart on Friday afternoon of two counts of sexual battery and single counts of false imprisonment and aggravated assault.

He faced up to 40 years in prison — and he's still going there. That's because Van Wart had also pleaded no contest to a charge of fraudulent use of personal identification information. Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in prison for that.

Deputies said when they arrested Van Wart in connection with the rape last year they found him with the IDs of two men, one of which he had used to open credit accounts with T-Mobile and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

Van Wart also had books like How to Disappear and more than 100 DVDs deputies say he fraudulently acquired from Pasco and Hillsborough libraries. Van Wart told deputies he was about to leave the state, according to a sheriff's report, but the jury never heard about that.

Man 'embarrassed'

The most serious accusation against Van Wart was that he bound, threatened and twice raped a pregnant Land O'Lakes teen while wearing a Halloween mask on Aug. 2, 2007.

The woman, now a 19-year-old mother, testified Wednesday for the state on the first day of the trial. Her identity is being withheld by the St. Petersburg Times because of the nature of the allegations.

Van Wart testified Friday morning. He said the woman came over to see him in the early hours of Aug. 2, 2007, drank beers, took some pills and even ground some up to snort, then had consensual sex with him.

She wanted to be tied up, Van Wart told the jury, and demanded $1,000 after they had sex.

The woman acknowledged she went to see Van Wart that night because she was upset, and she did have a sip of beer. But she denied their relations were consensual.

She said she awoke as Van Wart was binding her ankles with zip-ties and that he raped her twice. Deputies recovered the zip-ties and a stun gun she said he menaced her with, all of which the jury saw.

Even Assistant Public Defender Dillon Vizcarra, Van Wart's own lawyer, didn't mince words about his client.

"Is it against the law to be giving beer to someone under 21? Is it against the law to pay somebody for sex?" he asked his client.

"Yes, sir," Van Wart said.

"And even though it's not against the law," the attorney asked, "how do you feel about being 41 years old, living in a lowly travel trailer and being with an 18-year-old who's willing to do sexual acts while tied up?"

"Embarrassed," said Van Wart, who is now 42. "I have a son who's older than her."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at (727) 869-6236 or thalji@sptimes.com.

Man accused of raping pregnant teen is acquitted 07/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 3:32pm]
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