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St. Petersburg College baseball coach arrested in Orlando in underage sex sting

St. Petersburg College's head baseball coach logged into a chat room on Tuesday, authorities said, and started a conversation with someone he thought was a 14-year-old Orlando girl.

Robert Francis, 31, used the name "tpabayrobb" and acknowledged he was nervous, authorities said, and thought he might really be talking to a cop.

But that didn't stop him from calling and flirting with her, authorities said, or sending a nude photo of himself, or driving to Orlando to meet her bearing a bottle of wine, a box of condoms, a video camera and peanut M&Ms.

Francis, a married Oldsmar father who spent years coaching at Pinellas County high schools, was met instead by Orange County deputies.

The deputies had been posing as the young girl, and arrested Francis on charges of traveling to meet a minor and transmission of materials harmful to a minor, according to an arrest report obtained by Bay News 9.

"Mr. Francis admitted numerous times that he made a mistake," Orange County deputies wrote in the arrest report. "He admitted he knew the 'female' was 14 and remembered her screen name."

St. Petersburg College, in a statement released Wednesday evening, said that the baseball coach was placed on administrative leave and banned from any contact with students, staff and the campus.

"In addition, the employee's college computer has been confiscated and his access to the college computer network has been suspended," the statement said. "Also, he is being notified that during this administrative leave he is … not to set foot on any St. Petersburg College property."

Francis had been the Titans' baseball coach at the college for 14 months. He got the job in September 2010. Before that, he was a coach at the University of Mississippi.

Francis is a Massachusetts native but has strong ties to Florida. He came here in 1998 to attend Eckerd College, where he played baseball.

"I was a marginal player at best,'' Francis said of his playing days at Eckerd in a 2010 interview with the St. Petersburg Times. "But I kept my eyes and ears open and thought (coaching) was something I could do."

After graduating from Eckerd in 2002, Francis spent several years coaching at Seminole and East Lake high schools. He also worked at Florida Gulf Coast College in Fort Myers.

According to an arrest affidavit, during one of the online chats Francis wrote that he was "just curious" about being with younger girls. He repeatedly asked if she was a police officer, the report said, and wondered if it was a setup.

That didn't stop him from pursuing the meeting, though. He asked the girl to expose herself when he arrived so he would feel comfortable, the report said.

"Lol. This is a hott fantasy," he said during an online chat, according to the report. "Yes. This is gonna be really hott and a lot of fun."

Francis is married with one child, according to his online biography. During one of the undercover calls, the report said, Francis said he and his spouse had "an agreement."

Francis was booked into the Orange County jail. The Orlando Sentinel reported that he was being held there Wednesday in lieu of $5,150 bail.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

St. Petersburg College baseball coach arrested in Orlando in underage sex sting 12/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 8, 2011 11:23am]
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