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    Oldsmar millionaire sentenced for rape

    The judge gives Gregory Wilbanks the shortest prison term provided by sentencing guidelines after pleas from his wife and friends.

    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    Rape victim Kelly J. Smith cries while lawyers discuss a motion to throw out a guilty verdict against Gregory Wilbanks and conduct a new trial. He was sentenced to nearly eight years in prison.

    By ANITA KUMAR

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 7, 2000


    LARGO -- Diana Wilbanks uprooted her life this summer, leaving Colombia to be with her new husband in Florida. Now, only months later, she finds herself swearing to his innocence in a U.S. court.

    photo
    Gregory Wilbanks looks at his rape victim as she approaches to testify during his sentencing hearing. "He destroyed my life," she said.
    It doesn't matter to her that a jury already found him guilty of rape.

    "I know who he is. I know better than anyone," she testified on Monday, speaking with a heavy accent. "I know he is innocent and deserves another opportunity in his life."

    Her pleas could not keep the millionaire out of prison.

    On Monday, Judge Mark Shames sentenced him to nearly eight years in prison for the sexual battery of Kelly J. Smith, a bank employee, who he invited to his house Aug. 20, 1999, supposedly for business.

    Gregory Wilbanks, 44, of 4771 Lakeshore Loop in Oldsmar, was returned to the Pinellas County Jail, where he has been since his September conviction. He will not go to prison until after a separate trial on a charge he exposed himself to two teenage girls in his hot tub.

    "
    photo
    Gregory Wilbanks' wife, Diana, watches as her husband is led out of court on Monday.
    I think Mr. Wilbanks is where he belongs," said Ms. Smith, through tears. "He doesn't deserve to have the opportunity to do this again. He destroyed my life."

    Ms. Smith and another bank employee, Meagan E. Wideman, told police Wilbanks lured them to his house under the guise of business and then raped them. Three other women also have come forward with stories about Wilbanks.

    No charges have been filed in connection with Ms. Wideman's accusations, or those of the three other women.

    Ms. Smith and Ms. Wideman sued Wilbanks last month in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court and have taken the unusual step of allowing their names and photos to be used publicly.

    Police suspect there are more victims.

    Wilbanks did not speak at his hearing, though he took off his glasses and wiped tears from his face several times while friend after friend described his generosity and honesty.

    "I'm proud to call him a friend," Steve James said. "I've never known him to be out of line with anyone. There's just something amiss here. There's just something terribly wrong."

    Most friends told the judge that women always have been attracted to Wilbanks for his charm and money. Wilbanks, they say, dated more than his share of women in his life but never had any other accusations lodged at him.

    "Women would fall in love with him," said Mike Jones. "But not one time did they ever come back and say he treated them wrong."

    Friends say Wilbanks married his third wife earlier this year when Wilbanks took a trip to South America. Mrs. Wilbanks, who lives at her husband's half-million dollar house in Oldsmar, was comforted Monday by her father, who traveled here from Colombia.

    "He is the most important thing to me," she said. "I know all these things cannot be true."

    Police say Wilbanks met many women at banks where he was known for hefty accounts and weekly $10,000 cash deposits. He would ask employees to his lakefront house to help him open an account or, perhaps, apply for a loan.

    Ms. Smith said Wilbanks invited her to his house to open an account at her Republic Bank branch. But she said Wilbanks grabbed her and dragged her into his bedroom. She said she pleaded and screamed, but he wouldn't stop.

    Denis de Vlaming, Wilbanks' attorney, claims the sex was consensual and that Ms. Smith had "buyer's remorse" after sleeping with a business client while on the clock.

    He tried to get the judge to grant Wilbanks a new trial. Shames refused but sentenced him to the shortest amount of time provided by the guidelines.

    Ms. Wideman said she agreed to go to Wilbanks home when he asked her to help him with a bank loan. The two ended up having dinner on a weekend night, and afterward he pushed her on the couch and assaulted her, she said.

    A SunTrust Bank employee said Wilbanks grabbed her after the two had dinner at his house, but she was able to push him away and leave. Another SunTrust employee said he asked her to come to his office, but she canceled when she realized he gave her his home address.

    Another woman claims she went to his house the morning of Ms. Smith's rape but that she does not remember what happened except that she woke up on a chair in his bathroom.

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