Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Former teacher Ragusa gets 10 years in prison for sex with teens

TAMPA — Former teacher Stephanie Ragusa was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday for having sex with two teenage boys, a punishment far more severe than that given to other teachers guilty of similar crimes.

Most others got probation and house arrest. But Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe felt Ragusa, 31, deserved more. His decision partly came down to what he called Ragusa's "arrogance," as embodied in her notorious mug shot smile.

"I've seen you come into this courtroom time and time again," Tharpe told her. "You had a very lackadaisical attitude on your face, smiling, jovial. … I don't know as we stand here today that you truly appreciate the harm that you've caused."

Ragusa listened, holding in tears. She wasn't smiling.

The courtroom was packed Monday. Television trucks lined the streets, broadcasting the hearing live. Even the judge's family came to watch.

It was the culmination of a story that captured national attention in the spring of 2008 for more reasons than such cases usually do. There were all the standard elements: outrage at a teacher's abuse of power, talk of double standards with female suspects and male victims.

But there was also the Ragusa factor. Out on bail after her second arrest, she returned to one victim's house to have sex again.

From prison, she wrote a letter of advice to Hulk Hogan's incarcerated 17-year-old son.

At the sentencing, Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters portrayed Ragusa as a master manipulator who believed she was above society's rules, sexually preying on the most vulnerable teenage boys.

Defense attorney Robert Herce presented a remorseful woman struggling with mental disorders she didn't know she had. She has bipolar and borderline personality disorders and is on antipsychotic medication.

For the first time ever, the mother of one of Ragusa's victims took the stand to discuss the effect the case has had on her son's life.

He was 14, suffering from depression and taking special classes, when he was assigned to push Ragusa's wheelchair around Davidsen Middle School after she broke her foot. She told him he seemed shy and she could help him overcome that, authorities said. They had sex that afternoon in her apartment, the first of three sexual encounters.

The mother said Ragusa called her, expressing a special interest in her son's needs.

"She had access to their charts as far as their emotional behaviors," the mother said. "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."

The case has weighed on her son.

"He has dealt with a lot of guilt," she said. "He blames himself. … He even got to the point where he became aggressive with everything, just wanting this all to go away."

That victim would have been prepared to testify, prosecutors said, but Ragusa pleaded guilty in April to three counts of lewd or lascivious battery in his case. Neither he nor the second victim went to the sentencing.

The second victim was 16 when he and Ragusa had sex. It happened about 20 times, authorities said, in encounters that continued even after she had been arrested and told to stay away from him.

As part of a deal, prosecutors dropped seven counts against her in that case. She pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor.

Hillsborough County sheriff's Detective Travis Valles said that boy was living without electricity and air conditioning, and with no family to count on for rides. Ragusa bought the boy clothes, named him executor of her will and professed her love in a letter that the state obtained.

"They relied on each other emotionally," Ragusa's attorney said of that relationship. "God knows what would've happened to this boy had he continued to live in a place where no one cared about him."

The judge shifted in his seat.

Ricardo Ragusa spoke in defense of his daughter, describing her as a devoted sister to her autistic older brother and asking for mercy so she could return to his home to help care for him.

She got most emotional when talk turned to her brother. The month before her initial arrest, his care managers started the process to have him live with her.

Herce cited the 2003 death of Ragusa's mother as a contributor to her state of mind, but he said he didn't want to give excuses.

Ragusa said she was sorry.

"I never intended to harm anyone," she told the victim's mother. "I realize that those words do not suffice. Please know that I pray earnestly for some measure of peace in your lives."

Ragusa would have faced 22 to 45 years in prison had a jury found her guilty of all the charges. Instead, the plea deal capped her sentence at 10 years in prison. Herce asked for probation or house arrest, but prosecutors pushed for the maximum.

And Tharpe gave it to them.

After serving the 10 years, with credit for the two years she has already served, Ragusa will serve a total of 15 years of probation.

The sentence labels her a sex offender for life.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or (813) 226-3354.

With her attorney, Robert Herce, at her side Monday afternoon, former Davidsen Middle School teacher Stephanie Ragusa becomes emotional as she speaks at her sentencing hearing. Judge Chet A. Tharpe cited her “arrogance” as he delivered her sentence.


With her attorney, Robert Herce, at her side Monday afternoon, former Davidsen Middle School teacher Stephanie Ragusa becomes emotional as she speaks at her sentencing hearing. Judge Chet A. Tharpe cited her “arrogance” as he delivered her sentence.

.Fast facts

Recent sentences

• Debra LaFave, a Greco Middle teacher, got three years of house arrest and seven years' probation for sex with a 14-year-old boy.

• Jaymee Wallace, a Wharton High basketball coach, got three years in prison and three years' sex offender probation for a sexual relationship with a student on the girls basketball team.

• Ronald Lewis got one year of house arrest and nine years of sex offender probation for unlawful sexual activity with a girl he coached in soccer at Newsome High.

• Christina Butler, a former Middleton High teacher, got five years' sex offender probation for sex with a 16-year-old male special education student.

Former teacher Ragusa gets 10 years in prison for sex with teens 06/28/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 7:47am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida education news: Budgets, discipline, charter schools and more


    BUDGETING: Florida school district officials keep a close eye on their spending plans as they await word on the Legislature's budget. Gov. Rick Scott

  2. Forecast: Return of summertime pattern means afternoon storms on tap for Tampa Bay


    As if Memorial Day wasn't enough of a signal that summer truly is upon us, this week's forecast across the Tampa Bay area will be a stark reminder.

    Tampa Bay's 7-day forecast. [WTSP]
  3. Tiger Woods says medication, not alcohol, led to DUI arrest in Florida

    Public Safety

    Players arriving for a tournament this week at Muirfield Village might notice a framed picture of Tiger Woods with a resplendent smile and bright red shirt. He's posed there with the trophy, an image that embodies the excitement he once brought to golf.

    This image provided by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 29, 2017, shows Tiger Woods. Police in Florida say Tiger Woods was been arrested for DUI.  [Palm Beach County Sheriff's office via AP]
  4. Manuel Noriega, Panamanian strongman toppled in U.S. invasion, dies at 83


    Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian strongman and onetime American ally who was toppled from power in a 1989 U.S. invasion and who spent more than two decades imprisoned on drug dealing and conspiracy convictions, died late Monday. He was most likely 83.

    Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega waves to newsmen after a state council meeting, at the presidential palace in Panama City, where they announced the new president of the republic in 1989. Panama's ex-dictator Noriega died Monday, May 29, 2017, in a hospital in Panama City. He was 83. [Associated Press]
  5. Austin Mahone talks Pitbull, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, his pop evolution and more


    Austin Mahone has vivid memories from his childhood visits to see his grandparents in Tampa Bay.