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Pinellas schools: no plan to investigate ex-teacher nabbed in underage sex sting

There are no grounds to open an internal investigation of a former Pinellas County high school baseball coach arrested this week in an underage sex sting, the school district said.

Robert Francis, 31, a St. Petersburg College baseball coach, was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday when deputies said he showed up to meet what he believed would be a 14-year-old girl.

Francis worked for the school district for three years before he was hired by SPC.

School district officials said he started as a substitute teacher in 2004, then became a Bauder Elementary teaching assistant and Seminole High baseball coach. He moved to East Lake High in July 2005, where he was a teacher and baseball coach until August 2007.

Valerie Walker, administrator in the district's Office of Professional Standards, said the Orlando arrest does not warrant a fresh look into his time with the district. He had only one complaint in his personnel file, from the parents of a student unhappy he didn't make Francis' Seminole High team.

SPC placed Francis on paid administrative leave, banned him from the campus and barred contact with students or staff. Francis was the Titans' baseball coach for 14 months. Francis makes about $47,000 a year, according to school officials.

Lucas Fleming, Francis' attorney, said Thursday he wants more detail from the Orange County Sheriff's Office about how the sting was conducted.

"We view this as an isolated incident," Fleming said. "A lot of times in these cases, basically, the transcripts will help us really understand the extent to which law enforcement communicated with our client to determine how actively he pursued this lead."

Francis sent a nude picture of himself to what he thought was a 14-year-old girl he met in a chat room, records show. He drove to Orlando to meet her with a bottle of wine, a box of condoms, a video camera and M&Ms. Then he discovered the girl was actually undercover law enforcement.

Fleming said Francis, who is married with an infant daughter, has "a lot of support from people in the community."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@tampabay.com.

Pinellas schools: no plan to investigate ex-teacher nabbed in underage sex sting 12/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 8, 2011 8:40pm]

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