Bulgarian students inspire tougher video voyeurism laws

5:19 PM, Apr 7, 2012   |    comments
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Ralitsa Dzhambazova and Vanya Samokovareva

 

Westchase, Florida -- It was last July when two college students visiting from Bulgaria found tiny cameras hidden throughout their Westchase apartment.

They were tucked away inside devices that looked like motion sensors and smoke detectors.

Photos: Students find hidden cameras all over Hillsborough Apt

And Ralitsa Dzhambazova and Vanya Samokovareva feared that Nadir Punjani, their employer who also subleased them the apartment, was recording them in bedrooms and bathrooms. 

"The bathroom, it's your room, it's a private space," Samokovareva told 10 News at the time.

Punjani, also known as Raj Armani, was never charged because deputies couldn't find evidence that the cameras were recording or transmitting video. But the case did catch the attention of state legislators. 

During the most recent session, they passed a bill strengthening video voyeurism laws. On Friday, Governor Scott signed the bill into law. That's encouraging for the women and for their attorney, Mark Wright.

"Although it won't make a difference in their case, they were happy that something at least positive could come out of what happened to them," Wright says.

The law, which takes effect July 1, strengthens the penalty for video voyeurism from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony for anyone older than 18. That change allows an increase in the fines or jail time that someone convicted of video voyeurism might face. It also can make it easier for law enforcement to obtain a search warrant in order to gather evidence.

Video voyeurism is already illegal in locations where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in dressing rooms or tanning booths. The new law adds "residential dwelling" to that list. 

"The Legislature unanimously recognized how serious a crime this is," says Wright. "We are keeping up with technology to give law enforcement the tools necessary to really prosecute these crimes."

In the case of the two Bulgarian students, a civil suit was filed in September as they traveled back to Bulgaria. But days before Punjani's deposition was scheduled to take place, he filed for bankruptcy. Now, Wright has filed a lawsuit in bankruptcy court, hoping to gain justice for these women.

"Hopefully, the next time something like this happens to innocent victims in their apartment, the police will have all the tools necessary to prosecute this as a felony," Wright says.

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