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Band's bus driver lured girl to Tampa for sex, police say

Investigators say the suspect used a video camera to record the sexual encounter.

By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2005

TAMPA - The case against Leon R. Whitman started early Sunday, when a Tampa police officer on patrol near the Wyndham Westshore Hotel encountered a distraught 16-year-old who said she had just been pressured into having sex with Whitman.

By Monday, police were working with FBI investigators to determine whether Whitman, a 47-year-old bus driver for a heavy metal band, had victimized other girls. They say more than 200 images seized from Whitman's digital camera suggest he did.

"This thing started real small, and it just mushroomed," said Tampa police Detective Robert Parrish. "There's going to be more victims."

For now, Whitman is charged with three counts of pornography and two counts of unlawful sexual activity with the 16-year-old girl. He also is accused of interfering with custody of the teen, whose mother did not know she flew to Tampa on Saturday from her home in Michigan.

Whitman, of Swartz Creek, Mich., is being held in the county jail in lieu of $33,000 bail. A tour bus driver for the band Opeth, he was in Tampa Bay because Opeth played at the State Theater in St. Petersburg on Saturday night.

Whitman, a convicted cocaine trafficker, met the teen about a year ago in Michigan, Parrish said. He told the teen if she flew to Tampa, he would take pictures of her and help her land a job in Los Angeles, according to Parrish.

Whitman promised the girl $600, and he offered to take her to Los Angeles on the band's bus, Parrish said. He said the band knew nothing about it.

Saturday, Whitman picked the girl up at Tampa International Airport and brought her to his room at the Wyndham. There, he and the teen had sex, Parrish said.

"She's in Tampa, she has no money, and he was controlling things," Parrish said. "She was a very naive girl."

The girl left the room, shaken, and was walking near the Wyndham when a patrol officer noticed her.

Whitman admitted to detectives that he knew the girl was underage, and he admitted he had sex with her, Parrish said.

Investigators seized a video camera that contained footage of Whitman's sexual encounter with the girl, according to police.

Whitman also had a digital camera, which Parrish found on Opeth's bus. Parrish said it contains about 240 pictures of seven to eight females, some of them obviously underage.

Authorities also seized Whitman's computer, but they have not yet analyzed its contents. Based on Whitman's reaction when police took it, Parrish anticipates the computer contains more pornographic images that could lead to additional victims - and further charges.

--Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 15, 2005, 03:00:33]


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