A state lawmaker who earned a perfect rating from the Christian Coalition of Florida has been accused of having sex with a prostitute in his pickup truck at shopping center.
Rep. Marvin Couch paid $22 for oral sex from a prostitute he picked up Feb. 22 on Orange Blossom Trail, investigators say. He was charged with three misdemeanors and released after posting $750 bail.
"I have sinned against my God, my wife, my children and the citizens I represent," Couch, 42, said in a statement released Thursday. "I am truly regretful for the embarrassment and shame this incident has caused them."
A painting contractor elected to the Legislature in 1992, Couch said he will not seek re-election this fall. But the Oviedo Republican said he hopes to complete his second term, which expires in November.
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Couch admitted he has purchased sex from prostitutes on other occasions.
"It's not the first time, no," Couch said. "I wish I could tell you why. To be honest with you, I think I was wanting to get caught."
Nancy Couch, mother of the lawmaker's six children, said through tears that her husband's arrest came as a shock.
"It's hard, but I believe that he really does love us," she said. "Now that it's out in the open, I really believe that it's something that we can work through with our faith."
Misdemeanor charges don't trigger any automatic sanction in the state House.
Speaker Peter Wallace, D-St. Petersburg, told reporters Thursday he was sorry about the incident both because of what it means for Couch personally and because of how it reflects on the House as a whole.
"I'm disappointed and I know his colleagues are disappointed in his conduct," Wallace said.
House Republican Leader Daniel Webster of Orlando said Couch's arrest "hurts every part of your being _ politically, family-wise, personally."
Webster, who with Couch was part of a prayer group in the Legislature known as the "God Squad," stopped short of supporting Couch's plans to serve out his term. "I'd have to think about that," he said.
Couch was one of 15 legislators who signed a letter last fall to the Walt Disney Co. criticizing its new policy of extending health insurance to partners of gay and lesbian employees. The letter said the policy belittles the sanctity of marriage and endorses "a lifestyle that is unhealthy, unnatural and unworthy of special treatment."
Last year, he was one of the few Central Florida lawmakers to receive a perfect rating from the Orlando-based Christian Coalition of Florida. Couch has been a steady advocate for so-called pro-family legislation, including voluntary school prayer, crime-fighting measures and anti-tax issues.
According to his arrest report, two sheriff's vice agents working Orange Blossom Trail were following a woman they had arrested previously on prostitution charges.
The woman, Donna M. Depp, got into Couch's Ford truck around 11:40 a.m. Agents followed the truck south until it parked at a shopping center.
The agents then saw Depp, 34, move closer to Couch and put her head in his lap. When they approached the truck, Depp was performing oral sex on Couch, the report said.
"If it were a fire, they would be fully involved," said Sgt. Scott Campbell, one of the agents.
Depp, whose criminal history includes four prostitution arrests since 1993, told agents she had to haggle with Couch over her fees. She said Couch offered $30 for sex, then discovered he had only $23. She said he handed her a $20 bill and requested oral sex, but she asked for the other $3. He gave her another $2, saying he needed at least $1 to pay highway tolls, Depp told agents.
Campbell said the truck was parked next to other cars, in full view of anyone who passed by.
"I asked him about that," Campbell said. Couch, who wore a button-down white shirt and dress black pants, seemed embarrassed, the sergeant said.
In addition to prostitution, agents charged Couch with unnatural or lascivious acts and exposure of his sexual organs.
_ Information from the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press was used in this report.