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Andrew Warren campaign now bringing up Mark Ober quote from 2004 regarding underage rape case

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Andrew Warren, the Democrat who is challenging GOP incumbent Mark Ober in the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s race, is now claiming that Ober’s recent statement at a Tampa Tiger Bay Club about an ongoing sexual assault case isn’t the first time that he has made provocative comments on this topic.

In a statement issued out on Monday morning, Warren referred to a 2003 incident in which three Plant High school athletes and a former student had sex with a 14-year-old Plant High girl. Ultimately, the four boys pled no contest to felony battery, a charge that came with no sexual connotation. According to a report by the Tampa Bay Times in 2004, Ober said that the reason he didn’t purse stronger charges was that the victim had a “fragile psyche” and would have been victimized a second time if she had to go through a trial. The story also reported that Ober had said that “the four accused did not go unpunished, noting that one of the accused, a star baseball player who graduated in May, lost a college scholarship.”

That story also included an excerpt from a letter the victim wrote to the judge in the case, in which she wrote, “They RAPED me. I did not have sex with them.”

The incident was an issue in Ober’s first run at re-election for office in 2004, with his challenger that year, Robin Fuson, implying that suspects who hire high-profile attorneys get preferential treatment from Ober’s office, according to that Times report.

Ober responded late Monday afternoon, saying in a statement that “the case was handled appropriately, and to the satisfaction of the victim’s family.”

He went on to say that the terms of the plea were reached after “extensive consultation” with the victim’s family, adding that if the case had gone to trial, the victim would have had to testify, “and that clearly would not have been in her best interests.” And he alluded to a Times story that quoted the attorney for the young girl’s family, Steve Crawford, as having said that the “family did not want to destroy the boys’ future.”

The Warren campaign is promulgating the notion that Ober’s “comments show a concerning pattern regarding rape, victims, and punishment,” which was the actual  subtitle of the statement they issued early Monday. The “pattern” is a reference to what’s been in the news over the last week: Ober’s comments at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club  on September 2nd about a sexual assault case involving in avenge girl, a case that Warren has accused Ober of initially failing to pursue until he was prodded to by a local media report.

Ober has pushed back strongly from that allegation, saying that while his office initially declined to pursue charges against Maryland resident Alexander Pelzer, they ultimately did so of their own volition, disputing Warren’s contention that it was only after WTSP reporter Mike Deeson’s story was aired that charges were ultimately filed.

Warren has seized on Ober’s remarks at the Tiger Bay Club on Sept. 2 about the then-16-year-old girl, who Ober said went voluntarily to fly to see Pelzer.  “I have a picture of what I call a sex slave, and by no means, do not read between the lines,” Ober said at Tiger Bay. “This young girl … this man has committed a crime, so don’t read between the lines, here. She was with him voluntarily. She flew to see him.”

The mother of the unidentified youth, who has not publicly stated her name, issued a statement last week claiming that Ober’s comments were tantamount to blaming her daughter, adding that its comments like those that make such victims reluctant to go public.

Ober has denied that he has ever attempted to blame the victim in this case. And later in the day, he also blasted Warren for “using” the female victim from the 2004 case.

“The results show my office properly handled this case,” he said in a statement. “I call on my opponent to stop bringing more harm to victims and their families by politicizing their cases, their tragedy and their suffering, in order to further his own agenda.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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