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    Missing defendant gets 20 years

    The former East Lake coach had pleaded guilty to having sex with a 16-year-old girl.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 1, 2001


    LARGO -- It was supposed to be Joseph Ransey's chance to tell a judge why he deserved some leniency for having sex with a minor.

    Facing from 10 to 35 years in prison, the East Lake High volunteer boys basketball coach on Thursday did the one thing that virtually guaranteed that a judge wouldn't cut him a break.

    He didn't show up for his sentencing.

    Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt Downey, unwilling to delay the hearing until Ransey is apprehended, sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Ransey, 38, had pleaded guilty in April to child abuse, handling and fondling a child under 16 and lewd and lascivious behavior for a sexual affair with a 16-year-old girl whom he got pregnant at least twice.

    It was an open plea, meaning he received no guarantee from the judge or prosecutors about what his sentence would be.

    "This is a defendant who is clearly morally bankrupt," prosecutor Thane Covert told the judge. "Society must be protected from somebody like this. He's a predator. . . . He is a man driven by his libido."

    Covert said that Ransey hasn't been able to stay away from the girl, who isn't named because of the nature of the charges.

    Ransey had a yearlong, consensual sexual relationship with the girl and got her pregnant. He drove her to Tampa to get an abortion, prosecutors say.

    After his January 2000 arrest, Ransey reinitiated contact with the girl and got her pregnant a second time, prosecutors say. She got a second abortion.

    Though ordered by Downey to stay away from the girl, Ransey had sex with her after his April guilty plea while he was free on $60,000 bail awaiting sentencing, Covert said.

    The girl also told a detective that Ransey got her pregnant a third time. The girl said she had a miscarriage, though prosecutors can't confirm the pregnancy.

    "He's truly turned out to be a parent's worst nightmare," said the teenager's mother, also not named to protect her daughter's identity. "He's made a mockery of the whole system."

    Ransey's attorney, Dyril Flanagan, said he did not know where his client was. Flanagan said he had planned to ask the judge to sentence Ransey to a year or 18 months in prison, followed by house arrest and a long period of probation.

    But those hopes vanished along with his client.

    "That kind of ruins everything," Flanagan said. "It's just a tragedy."

    Ransey first disappeared Friday. He failed to appear at a hearing called by prosecutors asking that his bail be revoked because of his continued contact with the girl.

    Covert said sheriff's deputies went to Ransey's Clearwater home. "His wife told them he was gone fishing," Covert said.

    Covert said Ransey is from New York, where he still has family, and police think he may have fled Florida.

    "Who knows when he will decide the grace us with his presence," Covert told the judge.

    Flanagan said he thinks his client may still be in the area, especially because he has a wife and children living locally.

    Ransey may yet face additional felony charges for failing to appear and for having sex with the girl while free on bail.

    Ransey volunteered as a basketball coaching assistant at Dunedin High during the two school years before he went to East Lake, where he coached for two years ending with his arrest.

    Covert said there is no evidence he had relations with any other Pinellas student other than the girl in this case.

    His affair with the girl was reported by a classmate who became suspicious.

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