TAMPA — After Tampa police in 2008 arrested John Robert Ring Jr. on allegations that he tried to arrange sex with a 17-year-old girl, they began to collect tips from people who told similar stories.
Several portrayed the school district employee as a man who tried to recruit young girls to work as dancers for men at parties and who boasted of connections to the wealthy and powerful.
“He states that he runs Tampa,” a detective noted in a 2008 report documenting an interview with a woman who said Ring boasted he could get her friend a job.
Several people said they knew Ring as “Juice.” It was a moniker one interviewed witness recalled was an acronym meaning “Just Understand I Control Everything.”
Others knew him under different aliases. One of them: Giovanni Fucarino.
It was the same name he would use years later as he ingratiated himself with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, City Council members and the police department. His involvement with city leaders, and the revelation that he used a false name, touched off a political scandal this spring that led to one police officer’s resignation.
Ring, meanwhile, faces an ongoing felony case in which he’s accused of failing to properly register as a sex offender. He has pleaded not guilty. A prosecutor noted in a court document that investigators uncovered “potential evidence suggesting public corruption within the city of Tampa” when they searched his property.
The nature of that evidence has yet to be disclosed. The Tampa Bay Times requested the information from the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office more than a month ago.
Ring’s attorney, Anthony Rickman, said none of the evidence that has been given to the defense indicates public corruption, though he acknowledges some of it might still be under review by prosecutors.
The police records from over 15 years ago document separate sex crime investigations in 2007 and 2008 — one involving two young women considered potential victims, and the other involving a 17-year-old girl who worked with police to secure Ring’s arrest. The records include details of interviews with 15 witnesses and have not been previously reported in the media. Those police interviews shed more light on Ring’s background, portraying a man who, even long ago, boasted of his connections.
Rickman, who did not represent Ring in the previous cases, said that the police reports are one-sided, and merely contain allegations. He noted that the first investigation produced no criminal charges. If there had been anything to it, he said, police and prosecutors would have acted. He also noted the state dropped three of the four initial charges against Ring in the 2008 case. He pleaded guilty to attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor, was sentenced to 36 months of probation and later went to prison when he violated the terms of his probation.
Since then, Ring has helped organize events to clean up Ybor City and raise money for charities, his attorney said.
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“He paid his price and did his time,” Rickman said. “When he got out, he made the best of every opportunity to give back to the community of Tampa.”
But the records also underscore lingering questions. Among them: How did someone like John Ring gain access to the upper reaches of Tampa city government?
Tampa police first investigated allegations involving inappropriate contact between Ring and teenage girls in 2007. Back then, he was a teacher’s aid at Memorial Middle School. He also worked part time as a disc jockey for parties and events, according to police reports.
In early May that year, the mother of a girl who attended Hillsborough High School approached a school resource officer about a man called “Juice” who she said had asked her daughter to send him nude images of herself, according to a police report.
Sex crimes detectives interviewed the girl, who said two friends had talked with her about a job that involved taking pictures and dancing at parties in lingerie.
She knew Juice also as “Jose Rodriguez.” She said he’d asked her to send him nude images, which she did, according to the report. She and her friends later attended an “audition,” at a “party house” in Ybor City. There he took nude images of them, together and individually, the girl told police.
He kept the photos on a thumb drive that was always in his pocket, the girl said he told them. He’d show the images to clients, who could request specific girls be at the party house, she said he told them, according to the report.
He explained they would be dancing in lingerie, the girl said. If they wanted to be nude, they could be. If they wanted to have sex, they could. He said they would work for tips, and the more they did, the more money they would make. He said bodyguards would be present.
The girls were given $90 for the audition, which was to be used to get their hair and nails done, the girl said.
Police later stopped Ring in traffic after he left the middle school. A detective noticed he was wearing a name tag that read “Jose Rodriguez,” the report states.
He identified himself to the detective as John Ring Jr., but said people knew him as “Juice.” Asked about the name tag, Ring said it “was in honor of his father’s name.” He had the school’s approval, Ring said.
The detective asked if Ring knew why they wanted to talk to him.
Ring “thought it was about two girls telling everybody that he was touching them,” the report states.
The detective asked if he had a thumb drive on him.
Ring claimed not to know what a thumb drive was. The detective noticed Ring was grabbing his pants pocket, according to the report.
Police didn’t arrest Ring then.
Within weeks, the investigation came to an abrupt halt. The girls, police wrote in the report, were no longer cooperating.
The first arrest
Police renewed their interest in Ring a year later when a 17-year-old girl reported he’d tried to recruit her for sex work. What she told detectives is detailed in a 2008 police report documenting the second investigation.
She said she’d met Ring, who was then 37, when he did disc jockey services at a school function while she was a student. He’d come by her house a few times and she’d kissed him but nothing more. She said she quit talking to him when she realized he gave her a “bad feeling.”
On June 1, 2008, she said she ran into him while working in the food court at West Shore Mall. He was sitting with a young woman, who appeared to be in her teens, the girl said. He told her he knew of a way she could make money, but that the job was not easy, she said. Later he messaged her, insisting she stop by his house so he could tell her more.
She arrived that night at the home on West Ohio Avenue in Northwest Tampa. There she met Ring and another man, who he said was his roommate. Ring took her into a bedroom.
She said he told her he had girls who worked for him “dancing,” according to the report. He told her he needed a “recruiter” for girls, and that she could make as much as $1,000 a week.
He claimed he had many clients, she said. Doctors and CEOs who paid a lot to see his girls dance. The girl said he touched her inappropriately over her clothing, and suggested she could also stop by his house twice a week to “make him happy,” according to the police report. He said she would first have to show him she wasn’t “too shy,” and asked her to dance and disrobe.
She said he showed her pornographic images on his phone.
She said Ring later asked if she would have sex with him if he gave her money. Again, she refused.
Before she left, she said, Ring urged her not to tell anybody what they’d discussed. He also mentioned his roommate, who he said was his cousin, saying that he was Sicilian.
“If I was to kill you, he wouldn’t tell, because he doesn’t speak English,” the girl recalled him saying, according to the report.
Days later, the girl said Ring showed up again while she was working at the mall. She said he pressured her again to have sex. She told her manager, who advised her not to leave work by herself.
Police later set up two controlled phone calls between the girl and Ring.
In the first call in July, Ring and the girl discussed having her take nude pictures of other girls to send to him. She asked if the girls had to be 18.
“Listen very carefully to what I am telling you,” Ring said. “If you call me and tell me she is 18 years old, then she is 18 years old.”
In the second call, two months later, Ring asked the girl to come see him at his house.
“Nobody on my block talks,” he said. “I am a little bit of a somebody.”
The girl expressed concern about becoming pregnant.
“That is not going to happen,” he said. “God forbid if that happened, I’ve got doctors on the payroll.”
“So you are not going to use condoms or nothing,” the girl said, according to the report.
“Yeah everyone does,” he said.
Ring continued to discuss his business, adding he was telling her more than usual because he trusted her.
“People don’t meet me first,” he said. “They meet the people that work for me first. They work up to meeting me.”
As many as 90 people worked for him, he said.
“I am opening three party houses,” he said. “Each going to have 20 people working in them. Super Bowl is coming in four months.”
The girl and Ring agreed to meet later that night, Sept. 25, 2008, at a church near his home. She showed up. So did the police. Ring was arrested.
More details emerge
In the weeks that followed, people began giving police information about Ring. Their names are redacted from the 2008 police report. Some told police they wanted to remain anonymous. Several said they met him when they were still in school.
One person who knew Ring expressed concern that he’d always been “touchy feely” with young girls, according to the report. A woman with two daughters said both had complained to their school about him hugging and touching them but that nothing was done.
A spokesperson for the Hillsborough County School District, Jennifer Holton, said the last time Ring was with the district was in October 2010, and that the reason for his departure was not stated.
“You would have to check his personnel file for the reason,” she said.
The Times requested to view his personnel file earlier this month, but the district has yet to provide it.
Detectives met with one man who said Ring had approached him about a business venture that he described as a “gentlemen’s club.” The club would be started during a Super Bowl party featuring “high-end rollers.” The location was a house on West Coral Street, in Tampa’s Riverside Heights neighborhood. He toured the house. A group of girls was lined up when he arrived, with valet parking provided.
The girls waited on the men “hand and foot,” the man said, according to the report. Club membership was $1,500, with $100 monthly dues.
He said Ring introduced him to people he believed were millionaires. He also invited him to the Italian Club to meet people and tour Ybor City. Ring claimed to be “an Official Ambassador of Ybor.”
Police spoke with a manager for Ybor City Ambassadors, a program that uses volunteers who act as guides for the city’s historic district. The manager said he did not know Ring, and that only four people were involved in the program.
Another witness, who told police she wanted her name to remain confidential, said she’d known Ring since her junior year of high school. He’d provided music for school events, she said.
He’d asked her to work for him, she said, and described going to a house that had a pool, a full bar and a spiral staircase. She said she’d been paid to lap dance. She also said she’d given Ring an explicit photograph of herself “to prove she was not shy.”
Another woman told a similar story about meeting Ring at a party, where he worked as a disc jockey. She knew him as Giovanni Fucarino, she told police. He tried to recruit her and a friend to be dancers at parties and claimed he had 700 girls working for him, she said.
He told her he once came close to getting caught with the device he used to save pictures of girls when police pulled him over, but that he had left it at home, she said.
The informants said he boasted of having connections to the school board, the report states.
Ring was not charged with any other crimes. After his arrest, he pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, procuring a minor for prostitution and two counts of using a computer to solicit illegal acts. In 2010, Ring pleaded guilty to a single charge of attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Prosecutors dropped the remaining charges. He received 36 months of probation.
A year later, he was arrested again in North Carolina. An Asheville police officer found him and a woman having sex in the backseat of a car, according to a probation violation report. The woman told the officer that Ring was supposed to give her money in exchange for sex, according to the report.
Ring was described in the report as extremely nervous. He told the officer he knew he needed help. He said he didn’t want to go to prison.
But the violation put him there. He entered the Florida Department of Corrections in late 2011. He was released in 2014.
In the years that followed, Ring attended ribbon cuttings, government meetings and campaign events. He was a host, under the name Gio Fucarino, at Mayor Jane Castor’s reelection kickoff and also supported Cit sy Council members’ campaigns.
He was a fixture at the Italian Club in Ybor City, where he had an office.
After his recent arrest, department leaders concluded Master Police Officer William B. “Brandon” Cain knew Ring’s real identity but was untruthful when questioned about it. Cain’s attorney says he’s been made a scapegoat for a political embarrassment and has noted that many senior police and city officials, including Castor, also had close contact with Ring.
Castor’s spokesperson has previously said that she didn’t know Ring beyond seeing him at events and that it wasn’t until he was arrested that she learned of his past. A Tampa police spokesperson, likewise, has previously said that numerous people had contact with Ring without knowing his real identity.
Ring’s attorney said the notion that he was using the Fucarino name to hide who he was is “nonsense.”
The 2008 report, Rickman said, “establishes clearly” that Ring went by Fucarino “well before he was convicted as a sex offender.”
When a Times reporter contacted Sonja McCaughey, the lead detective on the 2008 case, she said she hadn’t thought about Ring in years but that she instantly recalled his ego.
“He can be very charismatic. Very likable,” said McCaughey, who retired from the Tampa Police Department in 2016 after two decades.
Now living three counties away, she hadn’t followed his growing stature in Tampa’s social and political circles. But she said she wasn’t entirely surprised.
“I don’t think you can change a stripe on a zebra,” she said. “And I think he’s a zebra.”
Times staff writers Tony Marrero and Justin Garcia contributed to this report.