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    Exposure to HIV feared for seduced teenage girl

    By MIKE BRASSFIELD
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 21, 2002

    PINELLAS PARK -- Federal authorities say a teenage girl in Pinellas Park was exposed to the AIDS virus by a 48-year-old Queens, N.Y., man who met the girl in an Internet chat room, flew to Florida and had sex with her in a hotel room.

    Now officials are considering charging the man with attempted murder.

    As the case unfolded in two states this past week, it was unclear whether the Pinellas Park teen acquired HIV, or whether she has even been tested for it.

    "This is a very sensitive case, and we're really not at liberty to make any comment," said Steve Cole, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa.

    The criminal charges already filed against Jose "Joe" Blas are serious: A federal indictment accuses him of having sex with a minor.

    But earlier this week, prosecutors disclosed a dire dimension to the case not mentioned in court papers: Blas is HIV-positive and may have knowingly exposed other girls.

    "In the best light, this is statutory rape," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Noah Perlman, arguing in Brooklyn federal court that Blas was a threat to the community who should stay behind bars. "At worst, this is attempted murder."

    U.S. Magistrate Robert Levy set bail at $500,000 for Blas, 48, a computer analyst with no previous criminal record. Blas made bail Thursday but was to remain under house arrest pending his arraignment in Florida, possibly as early as this week.

    The case dates to Dec. 17, when Pinellas Park police received a report that a teenage girl had been the victim of a sexual assault.

    The girl provided investigators with copies of e-mails showing she had met Blas online and arranged a rendezvous. He met her Dec. 8, picking her up at her home and taking her to a hotel, where they had sex. Her account is supported by airline and hotel records, court papers said.

    "Because the case involved interstate movement, we turned it over to the FBI, and they're handling it," said Pinellas Park police Sgt. Dan Levy.

    FBI agents raided Blas' home last week, arresting him and seizing his computer. Other items included a slip of paper with the girl's name on it and the name of the hotel, court papers said.

    The agents also learned Blas was on HIV medication, and they found evidence he tried to contact other girls via the Internet, mail and telephone, authorities alleged.

    One girl Blas tried to seduce told investigators that he admitted he was HIV-positive but said she could not be infected because he was taking medicine, said Perlman, the prosecutor.

    Investigators were analyzing computer records to determine "whether there were any other e-mails to any other victims who need to be contacted and apprised of possible medical problems as the result of contact with the defendant," the prosecutor said.

    Federal prosecutors in New York have recommended that their counterparts in Florida refer the case to local prosecutors for possible attempted murder charges.

    Blas' lawyer, Louis Freeman, told a New York federal judge that the accusations against his client were "a complete divergence from his otherwise perfect life."

    At the bail hearing, Freeman insisted Blas -- who makes more than $100,000 a year developing software for a pension fund -- was no menace.

    "I don't think the government will find any other instances of my client meeting with anybody," he said.

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