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Ober seeks to clarify comments in flap over sex case in Hillsborough state attorney race

TAMPA — Dogged by accusations from his reelection opponent that he criticized the victim in a sex case, Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober released a lengthy statement Friday defending his office and seeking to correct what he said was inaccurate information.

"I am committed to protecting each and every victim," Ober said, "including the young woman tragically impacted by the criminal acts perpetrated by the defendant in this case."

The defendant is Alexander Pelzer, who is accused of crimes relating to a sexual relationship with a teenage girl from Tampa. Earlier this week, Ober's opponent, former federal prosecutor Andrew Warren, accused Ober of criticizing the victim in the Pelzer case.

Pelzer, a 27-year-old musician who has a large following on YouTube, began talking online with the girl when she was 15. At some point, they began a sexual relationship, according to a Hillsborough sheriff's report.

The girl flew from Tampa to Washington, D.C., several times to meet and have sex with Pelzer, the report stated. Pelzer would give the girl sexual "assignments," the report stated, and referred to her as his "slave." The girl's mother notified authorities when she became aware of the relationship.

Warren brought up the case during a Sept. 2 luncheon, saying Ober's office initially declined to charge Pelzer and only brought charges after a TV news report brought to light allegations that Pelzer had sexually abused the 17-year-old girl. Ober responded, in part, by saying the victim was with Pelzer voluntarily.

On Thursday, the victim's mother issued a statement assailing Ober.

On Friday, Ober issued a statement of his own.

"We have had extensive communications with the victim and her mother," Ober said. "If they have any issues or concerns, we are ready to discuss any issues with them."

"At no time have I blamed the victim in this case, nor would I do so," he said. "She is a victim of criminal acts perpetrated on her by the defendant."

In a summary of the events that preceded charges being filed against Pelzer, Ober noted that his office had no authority to bring sexual battery, statutory rape or other sex charges due to the victim's age and the location of the sexual acts, which occurred outside Hillsborough County.

In late January, assistant state attorneys decided to review the case with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Ober said. That review, he said, was scheduled before a reporter from WTSP Channel 10 inquired about the case for a story.

On Feb. 12, the attorneys met with sheriff's investigators and decided to refocus the investigation on computer-related crimes, Ober said.

In April, the investigation concluded with Pelzer charged with three crimes: traveling to meet a minor after using a computer to solicit illegal acts, use of a child in sexual performance and use of a computer to solicit illegal acts.

"I cannot and will not risk further harm to a victim, jeopardize the integrity of an active case, or politicize the work of the State Attorney's Office," Ober said. "No responsible prosecutor would do so."

Warren responded, calling Ober "insensitive" and "hypocritical."

"Is Mark Ober watching the same video as the rest of us?" Warren said in an emailed statement. "The news coverage stems from his insensitive comments about the victim. The fact that he doesn't understand the public outrage shows how out of touch he is."

Pelzer's defense attorney, Stephen Romine, expressed dismay late Friday about the case becoming political fodder.

"The attempt to sensationalize this case for political gain is completely inappropriate," Romine said, "and to make allegations that are untrue is reckless."

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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