Victim, men leave rape case in past
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- They were some of South Tampa's most prominent and pampered sons, the scions of legal and newspaper power. They indulged in a drug-steeped adolescence that seemed to stretch on indefinitely. Well into their 20s, they were still called "boys."
Mark Urbanski's pedigree was particularly golden. His father was a beloved civic booster and president of the Tampa Tribune. On April 27, 1991, with his parents away, the young Urbanski brought a group of friends to his posh family home. With them was a 21-year-old Clearwater woman they had picked up in a downtown bar.
Ten years ago this month, jurors in a Hillsborough County courtroom heard accounts of what happened next: that one of Urbanski's friends, Carl Allison, sexually assaulted the woman while the other men laughed and Urbanski took pictures.
Originally charged with rape, Urbanski and Allison were ultimately convicted of lesser charges and spared prison. "Money Talks, Rapists Walk" said the protest signs.
Today, all involved in the case want nothing more than to leave it in the past. But in trying to do so, the accuser and the accused face distinctly different burdens.
For the woman who pointed a finger at the establishment's children, and who still believes the system failed her, the challenge is forgiveness. She thinks she has been able to do it. "You can forgive, but you can't forget," said the woman, now 32, who became an evangelical Christian and married an Atlanta lawyer. "The Bible says, 'Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.' Holding onto bitterness and anger against them does nothing but destroy me."
And the 35-year-old Urbanski?
"Life is good, and we're moving forward," he said last week through the door of his Bayshore Boulevard condominium. He declined to comment further.
But getting on with his life, say those who know him, has been more complicated than fulfilling the terms of his probation, which included lengthy drug rehabilitation, 600 hours of community service and finding a job without relying on family connections.
Saddled with a name and a face everybody knew, he decided to stay in town. He is now married and works as a sales manager at a concrete-parts company.
"I think he had a sense of wanting to do right by his family name," said Eddie Suarez, one of his attorneys.
In exchange for testifying against Allison, Urbanski was allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges of tampering with evidence and failing to report a rape. Circuit Judge Barbara Fleischer gave him six years probation, ordered regular drug tests and warned him not to slip.
"She imposed a lot of very restrictive conditions," Suarez said. "A lot of people thought he was too spoiled, too self-centered" to meet them.
Urbanski's stint at a drug rehab center in upstate New York forced him into close contact with inner-city addicts from entirely different backgrounds.
"There was a sense of superiority that he lost, and that was a good thing," Suarez said. "This experience was humbling for Mark, and one that allowed him to grow as a person tremendously."
For years, lawyer Rick Terrana has fought to win Urbanski a full pardon, which would expunge the conviction from his record. That would have allowed him to apply to law school -- one of Urbanski's ambitions -- without disclosing the crime.
So far, the state of Florida has said no. But if anyone deserves a break, Terrana said, it's Urbanski, who has transformed himself from "a spoiled rich kid" to "a role model for others."
"You had a child of a prominent couple who never had to work and do the not-so-enjoyable things in life that those less fortunate had to, and as a result got caught up in a partying lifestyle at an early age," Terrana said. "He's devoted his life to rectifying the wrong. He caused a lot of shame to the family, and that caused him a lot of shame."
On that night in April 1991, Urbanski brought the woman back to his parents' home along with Allison and three other acquaintances. They were Charles Hanlon and Thomas Smith, sons of local lawyers, and Michael Petti, a friend, all of whom received immunity after they made statements against Allison.
According to testimony, Allison secretly slipped the woman LSD, then, while she was asleep or unconscious, used his fingers, a shoehorn and a bottle to sexually assault her while the others stood around laughing. Others said Urbanski got a camera and took photographs, and later destroyed the film.
Allison, himself the grandson of a prominent Tampa lawyer, had known Urbanski since childhood. In the end, Allison was acquitted of sexual battery charges but convicted of tampering with evidence, drugging the woman and stealing her driver's license. He was sentenced to eight months in jail but served less than half his sentence.
Today, at 36, Allison is married and living in Pinellas Park. He holds a real estate license. Hanlon, 35, works in the furniture business, while Petti, 30, does remodeling. None of them wanted to comment for this story. Smith, 32, could not be reached.
Terrana said Urbanski avoids his old friends.
"He's made it a specific point not to hang out with those people," Terrana said. "He avoids them like the plague."
Barry Cohen, who represented the woman in a civil suit against Urbanski and the others, called it a case of "the power establishment versus the economically weak, someone who didn't have any clout. She wasn't a member of the Tampa Yacht Club or the Palma Ceia Yacht Club."
Despite the fact that no one was convicted of rape, Cohen said justice prevailed in the case "to the extent that they were exposed and humiliated in the community."
The civil case ended with an undisclosed settlement. Urbanski's father, James, stepped down as Tribune president soon after the allegations against his son surfaced.
Through it all, newspapers were careful to keep the woman's identity secret. Court papers called her Jane Doe. The town convulsed by her allegations knew her face as a blurred smudge on the TV screen. Anonymous in town, she nevertheless left it and hopes never to return.
"There's nothing there for me" but ugly memories, she said. She recalled Urbanski as the only one of the bunch who seemed to express remorse. "He was the only one who asked for forgiveness. I hope he meant it."
-- Times researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
-- Christopher Goffard can be reached at 813-226-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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