From our media partner Sun Sentinel:
As a charming weather forecaster, Rob Lopicola held the attention of local TV viewers for nearly eight years before suddenly exiting WPTV-Ch. 5 in 2006.
On Wednesday the sharp-dressed personality was back before the cameras — this time making the news — as a high-profile criminal defendant standing trial on child sex and pornography charges in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
The case focuses on accusations from a former west Boca Raton teenager, who says he was 15 when Lopicola, then 40 and already off the air, picked him up for oral sex in October 2010, and months later sent him hundreds of sexually-explicit text messages.
Prosecutors say Lopicola met the teen through the teen's personal ad on Craigslist, and knew he wasn't at least 18 as the online classified service requires. The accuser, now attending a post-high school program in Georgia, testified for more than three hours about the sexual encounter and the graphic texts.
"I was just really lonely," he said of the "sexting," and his earlier decision as an openly gay teenager to seek older companions through the "males seeking males" section of Craigslist.
But the defense attacked the fresh-faced accuser as a liar who used the texts to entrap Lopicola with a "To Catch a Predator"-style investigation modeled after the NBC program, and later deleted all texts he sent to Lopicola.
"He decided to set up Robert Lopicola," Assistant Public Defender Kristy Militello told the jury during her opening statement, noting a lack of physical evidence and witnesses implicating her client to the oral sex allegedly performed on the accuser.
Wearing a dark suit and stylish haircut, Lopicola, 43, watched though silver-framed glasses as the teenager, now 18, often punctuated his testimony with nervous laughter. But the witness also cried while describing his decision to call police in Michigan, where he lived in March 2011.
"I wanted to report it because I knew it was the right thing," the alleged victim said under cross examination. "What he did was wrong and he knows that."
The Sun Sentinel is not identifying the teen because of his age during the incidents and the nature of the charges.
Lopicola, who was living in Wilton Manors at the time of his arrest in July 2012, is charged with lewd or lascivious battery, lewd or lascivious conduct, and computer pornography and child exploitation. He faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted on all three felonies.
"There's no question this defendant is guilty of every single thing he is charged with," Assistant State Attorney Michael Kugler told the jury.
As a weekend meteorologist, Lopicola was a member of the television station's "Storm Team 5," covering Tropical Storm Irene in 1999 and hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, and Wilma in 2004 and 2005. The details of Lopicola's abrupt resignation were never explained. He later filed for personal bankruptcy and before his arrest, Lopicola was apparently working at Boardwalk Bar, a gay strip club in Fort Lauderdale.
An investigator extracted more than 400 incoming text messages from the teen accuser's phone, sent from "Rjj" and identified as Lopicola, according to a police report.
On Jan. 9, 2011, about three months after the alleged oral sex in Lopicola's car, Lopicola allegedly texted: "I realy like u! we have a big age difference, im a lot older, cud b yor dad. U sure u want an older boyfriend and a bigger muscular guy too?"
Militello told the jury the deletion of the accuser's texts makes it impossible to read how Lopicola was trapped.
Under cross-examination, the teen denied trying his own "investigation" to ensnare Lopicola. But he admitted sending sexually-suggestive texts to entice Lopicola.
"I wanted to see how far he would go and how sick he was," the teenager told Assistant Public Defender Phil Glenn.
Lopicola also is charged in a separate case with unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Prosecutors Kugler and Jessica Kahn say it involves a 17-year-old living in West Palm Beach during supposed oral sex episodes in December 2010 and January 2011 — also after meeting Lopicola through Craigslist.
While the second case may come to trial later, the young man, now 20, testified Wednesday — over the defense's objection — about his final encounter with Lopicola in April 2011. The Sun Sentinel is also not identifying this person.
Lopicola told officers he met the teen walking along Village Boulevard and befriended him because he feared telling his parents about his sexual orientation — a situation Lopicola said he experienced in his youth, records show.
But the teen, then a high school junior, told police he had responded to an online ad and received a response from "Robbie." The two traded texts, some of which contained naked photos of Lopicola's chest and genitals, according to a police report.
The texts allegedly led to oral sex in the teen's home on two occasions, with plans for more until the mother came home, discovered Lopicola hiding in her shower and called police.
The trial continues Thursday with a detective's testimony and a recorded statement by the defendant.