Ex-TV Weatherman Sentenced to 4 years, 8 Months for Teen Sex Crimes

From our media partner Sun Sentinel:

The disgraced former South Florida TV weatherman cried and begged for mercy, telling his life story about a successful rise up to his dream job, down to a humiliating fall resulting in his conviction on two teen sex crimes.

"This has been my rock bottom," Rob Lopicola, 43, told Palm Beach County Judge Barry Cohen on Friday, blaming alcohol, drug and sex addictions. "I have great remorse and regret for my actions. Not just because I was caught doing something inappropriate but just because it's the first time I've had to really face my demons."

The judge said he believed the defendant's apology was sincere and called him "a person with a tortured soul." But he wouldn't grant Lopicola's wish for a sentence of only lifetime sex offender probation.

Nor did Cohen approve prosecutor Michael Kugler's request for a 10-year prison term. Instead, the judge settled on 4 years and 8 months in prison — far less than the maximum 20-year sentence Lopicola had faced before the hearing, and more than the 2 years and 10-1/2 month required minimum.

With credit for 531 days spent in jail since his July 2012 arrest, Lopicola likely will have to serve about three more years behind bars.

In October, a jury convicted the former Wilton Manors resident of one count of lewd or lascivious conduct and one count of computer pornography and child exploitation. The charges involved the solicitation of a former 15-year-old victim from west of Boca Raton through hundreds of sexually explicit text messages in early 2011.

Then in November, Lopicola pleaded guilty to one count of attempted battery of a child, a third-degree felony not considered a sex crime. That case involved a near hook-up with a 17-year-old West Palm Beach teenager.

In exchange for the plea, Lopicola's punishment will be a prison term that runs concurrently — or at the same time — as his sentence for the conviction for lewd and lascivious conduct and computer porn and child exploitation.

Lopicola, a former weekend meteorologist at WPTV-Ch. 5 for nearly eight years until he was forced to resign in 2006, testified he met both male victims online through personal ads on Craigslist, and thought both were at least 18.

The Sun Sentinel is not identifying the former teens because of their ages at the time of the incidents and the nature of the charges.

The former West Boca teen testified Friday that he isn't mad at Lopicola, and hopes only that he is able to get help for his problems so he doesn't commit more crimes.

"I never had anger toward you and I never will," he said. "I feel for you as a person with a serious disease who is out of control."

The victim from the second case did not testify Friday and was not in the courtroom.

Before imposing the sentence, Cohen heard from a local expert who specializes in the treatment of sex offenders.

Sheila Rapa, a Fort Lauderdale psychologist, testified Lopicola poses a very low risk for repeating the same offenses with minors. But after examining the defendant in jail last year, she said she came to the conclusion he needs help to combat his addictions and "sexual impulsivity" that resulted in contact with many men for anonymous sex.

"He crossed a line" with the 15-year-old victim, Rapa said. "For sure he needs treatment for that."

But Rapa said Lopicola does not fit the definition of a pedophile, or an adult who preys upon young children.

While jurors found Lopicola guilty of the two charges, the panel acquitted Lopicola of a charge of lewd or lascivious battery concerning an alleged oral sex encounter with the West Boca teen in Lopicola's car in October 2010.

Lopicola denied meeting the teen, but testified he texted him because he thought he was 18 and wanted some "fantasy fun." Lopicola has said he prefers to date young men; the alleged victim listed his age as 18 on the "males seeking males" section of Craigslist.

Kugler, the assistant state attorney, argued Lopicola is "someone who needs to be seriously punished" for his conduct, and he would likely continue the same offenses if released from custody.

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