Mark Ober says he’s had enough of having his opponent “lying to voters” about his record.
The Hillsborough County State Attorney responded Thursday to two specific cases his Democratic opponent, Andrew Warren, has criticized him for during this campaign season.
Warren is the 39-year-old former federal prosecutor who decided to challenge Ober this fall, the first time he’s seriously been opposed by a Democrat since he was first elected in 2000. He’s been relentless in criticizing Ober for a variety of maladies, including his work ethic. And he’s stayed extremely competitive in fundraising against his much-better-known opponent.
Warren has received a tremendous amount of media coverage for alleging Ober initially declined to prosecute a case involving an underage teenage female who was sexually assaulted by an adult male out of state. At a Tiger Bay debate in early September, Warren alleged Ober only ultimately decided to prosecute the case after he was compelled to do so by a report that aired on WTSP 10 News.
“We were looking at the case at the time [reporter] Mike Deeson called us,” Ober said at the forum. “Mike Deeson has apologized about the report that he put on, that indicated that he brought it to our attention. I have a picture of what I call a sex slave, and by no means, do not read between the lines. This young girl … this man has committed a crime, so don’t read between the lines, here. She was with him voluntarily. She flew to see him.”
Warren’s campaign team seized on the statement, alleging that Ober was blaming the victim. Subsequently, the victim’s mother and the victim herself issued statements criticizing Ober for his remarks.
“In that pending case there are 16 charges filed against the defendant,” Ober said in his statement released on Thursday. “There is no evidence and no allegation by the victim of sexual contact, sexual assault, or rape occurring in Hillsborough County. My office has charged the defendant with every crime alleged to have occurred in Hillsborough County. The law does not allow my office to charge for a crime that happened outside Hillsborough County.”
A week after that incident, Warren then alleged Ober’s office failed to charge four Plant High school students for raping a young woman in 2004. According to a report by the Tampa Bay Times that year, Ober said that the reason he didn’t purse stronger charges was that the victim had a “fragile psyche” and would have been victimized a second time if she had to go through a trial. The story also reported Ober had said that “the four accused did not go unpunished, noting that one of the accused, a star baseball player who graduated in May, lost a college scholarship.”
Ober says now “the charges forwarded to my office by law enforcement were for lewd or lascivious battery, not sexual battery or rape.”
“The victim’s family asked my office to protect their daughter from being further traumatized by a public jury trial, and agreed to allow the young men involved to enter a plea to a lesser charge to avoid a trial,” he said. “My office charged those four young men with the agreed-upon charge of felony battery, and each of them was placed on probation and required to get counseling. My office gave priority to what was in the best interests of the victim, and resolved the case to the satisfaction of the victim’s family. The victim and her family continue to fully support the outcome of that case.”
His statement concludes, “I have great confidence in the voters of Hillsborough County, to see through the lies and distortions, and get the facts and the truth, before casting their vote.”
“Here are the facts: Mark Ober refused to charge four men who raped a child with rape,” Warren replied. “They spent no time in jail and didn’t have to register as sex offenders. Instead, he said losing a baseball scholarship was an appropriate punishment. Mark Ober refused to charge a man who turned a child into a sex slave until local news shamed his office into taking action. Then he said the victim shared the blame for being raped. The victim and her mother have both blasted Mark Ober for his comments, his inaction, and this miscarriage of justice.