tampabay.com

Sergeant tells his side of the story

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published January 23, 2007


In his job recruiting young people to join the Army, Staff Sgt. Bruce Roberts meets a lot of kids who are headed down the wrong path. While visiting their classrooms, he hears startling tales about the influence of sex, crime and drugs in their young lives.

Now, Roberts is experiencing it firsthand.

The 29-year-old Land O'Lakes man is accused of having sex with a 17-year-old potential recruit he met while giving a presentation at her high school in October. He faces felony criminal charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and a possible investigation by the Army.

In an interview Monday, Roberts said the account given by the Sheriff's Office - that he and the girl had sex in a tent in some woods off Quail Hollow Boulevard - is flatly untrue.

Roberts, with 11 years in the Army, became a recruiter in the spring. He worked out of an office in Dade City and earned his gold badge in six months. He said he has signed up 17 soldiers.

"I've never been in trouble in my entire life for anything, ever," said Roberts, who had no criminal history in Florida. "I love my job. I love what I did."

At a presentation in early October, he captured the interest of a handful of high school students. Neither Roberts nor the Sheriff's Office will name the school. He started holding physical training sessions - pushups, situps and running drills - with them and other recruits three times a week. Afterward, Roberts would drive the teens home.

On a Saturday night in mid November, he got a call from one of the teens.

"They were throwing a going-away party for one of my guys that was leaving," Roberts said. "I get a call from a couple of the kids saying, 'Hey, two of the females out here told their parents they were at (physical training), and they need to get home.' "

Roberts said he drove to the spot and found a bacchanal. He said he first drove home the girl who eventually accused him.

About three weeks later, the teens were planning another party. The girl who later accused him called and said she told her stepmother that Roberts was taking her to a friend's house.

Later that night, the stepmom called Roberts. She wanted the number where her stepdaughter was supposedly staying. Roberts wouldn't give it. Later, the stepmom called again, demanding that he and all of the kids at the party come to her house.

When Roberts arrived, sheriff's detectives were already there. His arrest came Friday.