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New Port Richey, Florida - Local Bay area stories have both a history and a habit of going national. What happens around here just seems to make headlines all over the country, especially when it comes to salacious and illicit relationships. Debra Lafave, anyone?
Let's face it - Florida cases are constantly in the news, especially when it comes to attractive women.
Take for instance the case of Melissa Dilan-Hernandez.
She is a pretty, petite 30-year-old woman who is gaining attention, not only in the U.S., but all over the world. The headlines she's making are not based on an act of heroism or a noteworthy tragedy. Melissa is in the news for her alleged lust for underage boys.
The young woman admits that she not only had sex with a 17-year-old boy, but she conceived a child with him and is in love.
"He is a wonderful man and a wonderful father. We are in love and will do anything to stay together," she said.
In fact, Melissa pledged her devotion to her teen lover, T.J. Sinavage, on national television Tuesday on the Dr. Phil show which airs on 10 News daily at 4pm.
The title of the show was, "In Love & Illegal." Considering all the cirucumstances, the show could have been nicknamed, "In love, illegal and living in New Port Richey."
That's right, Melissa is carrying on the tradition of Bay area history-making headlines. Melissa and T.J. met online, she claims, on Facebook. She says he was very mature for his age and that they hit it off right away. "We knew we were happy," she said.
However, Florida law doesn't see it that way.
A relationship of this nature is against the law. There is no such thing as concensual sex, since T.J. is a minor.
Melissa is accused of having sex with the boy as early as September 2011, when he would have been only 16-years-old. DNA testing confirmed the baby is his, according to the New Port Richey Police Department.
Melissa explained to Dr. Phil that she doesn't think what she did was wrong and that she feels "attacked."
"I feel so much pressure. I am not a pedophile. I want people to know who I am. I'm not a bad person," she said.
"Don't you give me your sob story, lady," Dr. Phil barked at Melissa on the Tuesday episode. "I don't buy that crap!"
As far as a happy home-life for the couple, it just doesn't exist. Melissa and T.J. move from motel to motel in New Port Richey for now as they raise the baby together, according to detectives.
10 News spoke with a local New Port Richey motel employee about the couple's love nest in Room 105 at one establishment on US Highway 19. "Yep, they stayed here with the baby. They screamed and fought all the time," the employee said. "They're gone now." The stale-smelling room, with a lingering stench of smoke, rents for $60 a night. It includes two small beds, bare walls, a tiny television and an old microwave.
The motel employee says that, as of now, the couple is "broken up because he cheated on her with another girl." This particular footnote was not mentioned on today's show.
New Port Richey Police Detective Chris Mellecker calls this, "an interesting case."
Mellecker, a 7-year-veteran of the force, has been following this drama for months and asked Melissa to turn herself in when investigators cracked the case. "She rode here on her Schwinn bicycle. You know, we see everything and anything here. It's a busy little city," Detective Mellecker said. "One day they're in love, they next day they're calling us."
Indeed, the calls for service have been numerous about this controversial couple. New Port Richey Police have worked extremely hard on this case and were pleased to make an arrest. "These guys have put a lot of time and effort into this," said New Port Richey Police Chief James Steffens. "I'm proud of them."
As for Dr. Phil's interest in featuring Melissa's and T.J.'s story on an episode, Detective Mellecker says, "You see the Dr. Phil show and never think that New Port Richey will be on the show."
New Port Richey Police told 10 News that T.J. is no stranger to law enforcement. In fact, the teen has an extensive criminal record for someone this young. One such recent instance includes T.J. prostituting himself for money, according to records.
"It's just odd," Mellecker observed. "Not everyone is honest. We get lied to all the time." Police are now waiting for the State Attorney's Office to make a decision on how to proceed in the case.
Melissa admits that she can't afford an attorney while she is currently out on bond. If she is convicted in this case, she could face up to 15 years in prison and will have to register as a sex offender. She was originally arrested for unlawful sexual activity with a minor and released back in October from Land O'Lakes jail after posting $10,000 bail.
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