Three recent arrests of female teachers have alarmed Florida residents, but experts question whether there's been an uptick of cases.
It was an alarming cluster of cases. On March 13, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Florida arrested Tampa middle school teacher Stephanie Ragusa, 28, for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old boy in her apartment and in the back seat of her Lexus. One week later, the Tampa Police Department charged Mary Jo Spack, 45, a local high school teacher, with having sex with a 17-year-old male student. That encounter reportedly took place in a motel room, where she had been drinking alcohol with a group of the teen's friends, according to officials. Four days later, yet another case surfaced: Lisa Marinelli, 40, a substitute teacher from the Tampa Bay area, was arrested by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old boy on 10 different occasions, mostly in her car.
The rash of arrests, which appears coincidental, has nevertheless unsettled area residents. They're no strangers to such scandals. Since 2005, the Tampa Bay area has been home to 10 similar cases involving schoolteachers, including these most recent ones. Among them: that of Debra LaFave, the blonde middle school teacher who admitted to sleeping with a 14-year-old boy in 2004 and whose case sparked a national media frenzy (she was sentenced to three years of house arrest and seven years of probation). In response to the most recent incidents, local and state officials are taking action. The Hillsborough County School District is launching a review of its hiring policies, and a pair of state legislative bills addressing teacher ethics is gaining additional traction.
Authorities say they have strong evidence to back up the charges against the three women. Investigators monitored a phone call between Ragusa and the 14-year-old in which she acknowledged having sex with the boy, according to the sheriff's office. Spack's alleged sexual encounter was overheard by the 17-year-old's friends in the motel room. And in Marinelli's case, authorities got hold of a pair of underwear she allegedly gave her victim, as well as explicit text messages sent from her cell phone. "How about a quickie 2 morrow afternoon :-)?" one read, according to an affidavit. "Ur car looks awesome! Al u need is a hot milf sittin next u and ud really b in business," read another.
Ragusa has been charged with lewd and lascivious battery, and Spack and Marinelli with unlawful sex with a minor. All three are now out on bail. Marinelli's attorney declined to comment, and lawyers for Ragusa and Spack didn't return repeated calls seeking comment.
For Ragusa, this isn't her first brush with the law. In 2004, she was arrested for aggravated battery, though the charge was later dropped. The following year, Tampa police arrested her on suspicion of driving under the influence, and she refused to take a breath alcohol test; the charge was dismissed at trial. She also ran into trouble with school authorities. According to Linda Cobbe, spokesperson for Hillsborough County schools, Ragusa was investigated by the Florida Department of Children and Families for inappropriately restraining a student who was attempting to leave her classroom; no charges were filed. She was also on probation with the school board for using inappropriate language and discussing her personal life with students. "I think she has some boundary issues," says Cobbe.The case against Spack, however, came as a shock to those who know her. ...
Note from Gag:
You gotta love 'the little Ragu!' Clearly, she knows how to have a good time and how to beat the charges afterward.