A Prince Edward Island businessman has been sentenced to 28 months in prison for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in the Halifax area more than 20 years ago.

Justice Patrick Murray of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court said he hoped to send a strong message of deterrence in sentencing Stephen Nicholas Taweel, 55.

"I have found the seriousness of the offence and [Taweel's] degree of responsibility warrant a federal term in prison," Murray said.

The Crown had recommended a sentence of three to four years in prison, citing Taweel's persistence and position of authority as aggravating factors in the offence.

"Sexual violence against children and young people deserves a strong response from the court," Crown attorney Scott Morrison said outside court. "Today, Justice Murray delivered that strong message."

Defence lawyer Mark Knox had argued for a conditional sentence, pointing to Taweel's lack of a criminal record and his strong standing in the community.

"We are warned occasionally not to sacrifice an offender to the altar of general deterrence," Knox said in his sentencing argument. "I haven't seen someone with this type of background, this type of character, as brilliant as Mr. Taweel."

A pre-sentence report provided to the court contained 28 letters of reference from Taweel's family and friends, as well as members of the Charlottetown business community, all vouching for his integrity and good character.

An assessment concluded Taweel was at low risk to re-offend.

Taweel is the president of Taweel Developments and Taweel Construction, and also serves as chairman of the Charlottetown Downtown Residents Association.

Morrison told the court the victim's life has been destroyed.

"He (Taweel) showed complete disregard for the victim's dignity and sexual autonomy. He destroyed her life for little more than sexual gratification," he said. "It is a profoundly selfish crime and deserving of our condemnation."

Taweel and the complainant originally met on Prince Edward Island in 1991, said Murray. The sexual encounters happened on three separate occasions later that year at a home in Dartmouth, N.S., he said.

During his trial, Taweel denied touching the girl in Dartmouth, testifying that they did engage in consensual sexual activity soon after they first met in P.E.I. earlier that year.

The legal age of consent at the time was 14, though Taweel said in court the girl had told him she was 16 years old.

Murray said Taweel warned the girl not to tell anyone and provided her with excuses to explain her absences to her family.

The complainant, now 37 and whose identity is protected by a publication ban, described herself in court as a naive, timid and vulnerable girl who felt "trapped and confused" by a confident and persistent older man, Murray said in delivering his verdict on Feb. 24.

She testified that she did not invite Taweel to touch her, but she felt "resigned to it" because she was terrified by a threatening tone that included warnings not to tell anyone what had happened, Murray said in February.

The complainant chose not to provide a victim impact statement for the sentencing hearing.