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Former teacher sentenced to 10 years for having sex with students

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Teacher sentenced for sex with teens
  • Stephanie Ragusa pleaded guilty in April in the case
  • Judge also sentences Ragusa to 15 years sex offender probation
  • Prosecutor paints former math teacher as a "master manipulator"
  • Ragusa apologizes to victims and their families

(CNN) -- A judge in Tampa, Florida, on Monday sentenced Stephanie Ragusa, a former middle school math teacher, to 10 years in prison for having sex with two underage students in 2008.

"As parents, we place our trust in teachers to provide a safe environment in which our children can learn," Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe said in handing down the sentence. "You violated that trust in the worst imaginable way."

Tharpe also sentenced Ragusa to 15 years of sex offender probation following her prison time.

Ragusa, 31, pleaded guilty in April to three counts of lewd and lascivious battery in a March 2008 case involving a 14-year-old boy, and two counts of having unlawful sex with a minor in an April 2008 case involving a 16-year-old student.

Ragusa has been in jail since she was arrested in 2008 leaving one of the victims' homes.

Monday's sentencing included testimony from the victims' families, who depicted Ragusa as a sexual predator who caused severe emotional distress for their sons.

Video: Teacher takes deal
  • Sexual Offenses
  • Teenagers
  • Tampa

"Miss Ragusa maliciously and intently preyed on my son and the other boys," said the mother of the 14-year-old victim. "She had access to their charts as far as their emotional behaviors. ... I feel that she was very conniving ... in picking these boys out and preying on them and using that to manipulate them and seduce them."

Prosecutor Rita Peters also played a phone conversation between Ragusa and the younger victim that police recorded with the 14-year-old's consent. In the tape, Ragusa can be heard urging the teen to keep their encounters secret.

"It's ... one of those things you have to take to the grave," Ragusa says on the tape, explaining that sex crimes involving minors have no statute of limitations.

In arguing for the maximum sentence, Peters portrayed Ragusa as a "master manipulator."

"She is the one that goes in and looks at their weaknesses," Peters said. "She knows exactly what she has to do to get into their lives."

In a statement before her sentencing, an emotional Ragusa -- wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackled at her hands and ankles -- expressed remorse for her actions.

"I'm sincerely sorry for the pain and aggravation I have caused to the victims and their families," she said.

Her attorney, Robert Herce, asked the judge to sentence her to probation with time served, saying she has spent more time behind bars than other people who have faced similar charges.

A psychiatrist for the defense also testified that Ragusa has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

But Tharpe issued the maximum sentence and did not hold back in his final statement to Ragusa, calling her a "danger to the children in our community."

"You not only have disgraced yourself, your family, but also the teaching profession," Tharpe said. "And one thing that I have gleaned out of this sentencing hearing this afternoon is you're a very selfish person."

He added that he remained unconvinced that Ragusa had accepted responsibility in the case.

"You stopped only because you got caught and put in jail," Tharpe said.

As part of her probation, Ragusa must abide by a mandatory nightly curfew, enroll in an outpatient sex offender treatment program and will not be allowed contact with the victims. She also will not be allowed to live within 1,000 feet of a school, day care, playground, park or any other area where children congregate, nor will she be allowed unsupervised contact with children under age 18.

The defense said after the hearing that it was disappointed with the sentence.

"I was not expecting that harsh of a sentence and I think this case did not warrant that," Herce said.