PHOENIX (AP) — A man dubbed by "America's Most Wanted" as one of the most prolific child molesters in Arizona history was sentenced Friday to 560 years in prison for abusing eight boys.
Arthur Leon Vitasek, 47, was sentenced by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Reinstein after being found guilty in November of 26 counts that included sexual conduct with a minor, child molestation and public sexual indecency.
The charges stem from the molestation of eight boys from 7 to 15 years old in Phoenix and the suburbs of Mesa and Paradise Valley over a 15-year period beginning in 1990. Police suspect there are more victims.
Vitasek often targeted financially struggling single mothers, helping them with material items and showering their sons with gifts and attention, authorities said.
"Oftentimes we'll have someone who has molested one child, but this guy was a true classic predator," Mesa police Detective Steve Berry said Friday. "You do want to get a maximum sentence on someone like that. You don't want him to get another opportunity to hurt a child."
The prosecutor and defense attorney in Vitasek's trial did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Vitasek was arrested in Texas in September 2006 after being on the lam for more than a year and a half. "America's Most Wanted" featured Vitasek on the program numerous times before his arrest.
Police in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie arrested Vitasek after a 16-year-old boy reported that Vitasek sexually assaulted him after they met on the Internet.
Grand Prairie police said Vitasek was using a different name, Rich Loper, and that Vitasek only admitted his real name after a detective recognized him and repeatedly questioned him about his identity.
Vitasek told police that he was tired of being a hunted man and that he was glad his life on the run was over, adding, "I'm the nicest man in the world," according to "America's Most Wanted."
Vitasek's case also gained attention because he was mentored by former Arizona House Speaker Jim Weiers, who had hired him for a couple of jobs and allowed him to live in his home for a time. Weiers is still a state representative.
A 2006 Mesa police report said that one of Vitasek's teenage victims told investigators that Weiers tried to discourage him from cooperating with police in the case. But the teen later signed a notarized handwritten statement, issued by Weiers' office, saying that the Republican lawmaker "never told me not to talk to police."
In the statement, the victim also said any comments he'd made "that point a finger at Jim Weiers were a result of my being angry about what happened to me. I was blaming Jim for not having stopped Arthur.
"The truth is I don't even know that Jim knew what was going on," the statement said.
Weiers said at the time that the victim must have misunderstood him when he warned him about being exploited by the media.
Berry said Vitasek's 560-year sentence likely will provide some closure to the victims in the case.
"One of the biggest things with molestation and rape and these types of cases is oftentimes victims feel like they're the only ones and no one's going to believe them and they're reluctant to come forward," he said. "So I think it is fantastic when victims can see that people do believe them and take them seriously, and know that this guy's not going to harm anyone else."
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