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From trusted friend to sexual predator

A man gets three years in prison after pleading guilty to abusing two children, avoiding a trial that could have led to a life sentence.

Published July 23, 2003

LARGO - Ricky F. Gilbert's neighbors thought he was a good guy. Pinellas prosecutors say he was a trusted father figure to children in the Somerset Lakes subdivision near Largo.

TV star Oprah Winfrey indirectly helped end those illusions.

One day, a Pinellas County girl watched Oprah on television. A girl who was a guest recounted sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a boy she knew.

That led the Pinellas girl, now 12, to tell her mother about her own ordeal with sexual abuse by a trusted neighborhood figure.

Tuesday, Gilbert pleaded guilty to five charges that he sexually abused the girl and a boy from his neighborhood. In a plea agreement with prosecutors, the 39-year-old was sentenced to three years in prison to be followed by 10 years of sex offender probation.

Prosecutors originally charged Gilbert with capital sexual battery, which carries a mandatory life term. But in the plea, the charge was reduced to attempted sexual battery. Prosecutor Scott Rosenwasser said the families of the two children wanted to end the ordeal without a trial.

"It boiled down to the desires of the families," Rosenwasser said. "They wanted to spare each of their kids the stress and trauma of a trial."

Defense attorney Michael Schwartzberg said he considered the case a good one to try given inconsistent statements by the victims and repressed memory issues by the victim who revealed the abuse after watching Oprah.

But he said it was a good plea deal considering the chance of life in prison Gilbert faced if convicted at trial, which had been scheduled to open on Tuesday.

"And a trial would have required two children to get on the stand and be subjected to cross-examination," Schwartzberg said. "That's not good for anybody."

Prosecutors accused Gilbert of sexually abusing a neighborhood girl when she was under age 6 and sexually abusing a boy under the age of 10.

Arrest reports indicate Gilbert admitted to the charges involving the girl. His lawyer did not allow detectives to speak with him about the charges involving the boy.

The abuse of the girl took place during a two- to three-week period in June 1995, while the abuse of the boy dates back to at least August 1998 and continued until the summer of 2000, investigators said.

Gilbert, who worked as a power company lineman, pleaded guilty to two charges of lewd and lascivious behavior and three charges of attempted sexual battery.

Judge Tim Peters also designated Gilbert a sexual predator.

[Last modified July 23, 2003, 01:18:16]

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