Published August 16, 2002
NEW YORK – A Virginia couple was arrested in New York City Thursday for public lewdness after allegedly having sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral as part of a radio stunt that outraged parishioners and church officials.
Also arrested was comedian Paul Mercurio, 40, who provided a running on-air commentary of the sex act, which took place just five feet away from worshippers praying on the Feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation for Catholics.
Mercurio, who told cops he was a producer for the "Opie and Anthony" radio show, was charged with acting in concert with public lewdness.
Fans of the show on WNEW-FM said the stunt was part of the program's "Sex for Sam" feature -- which offers a prize to the couple having sex at the riskiest location in the city.
A couple having sex in a church would get 25 points, according to a list of 54 sites around the city seized from Mercurio.
Sex in Rockefeller Center was worth 30 points, and sex on air with a cop or firefighters would earn 100 points.
Police said an usher spotted the couple "in the act" shortly after 4 p.m. in the Roman Catholic cathedral's 50th Street transept, within a few feet of at least 20 congregants and tourists.
Initially, the usher thought the man was urinating -- he was standing with his fly open, said Sgt. Gerard Beyrodt of the New York City Police Department's Midtown North Detective Squad. Then he saw the woman standing in front of him -- naked from the waist down.
Mercurio was posted nearby, describing the couple's activities into a cell phone for the radio show's listeners, Beyrodt said.
As the usher called for police, two officers who were tuned in to Mercurio's "blow-by-blow description" on the radio heard in the background "verbal demands from a cop to move" and rushed into the cathedral, Beyrodt said.
Loretta Lynn Harper, 35, of Alexandria, Va., and her boyfriend, Brian Florence, 37, of Quantico, Va., were busted, along with Mercurio. While they were being processed at the Midtown North station house, Florence was rushed to St. Clares Hospital, complaining he had thrown his back out. He told cops it was a pre-existing condition.
When Florence was returned to the station house, a reporter asked him, "Was it worth it?" He responded, "Not really."
Worshippers at St. Pat's were scandalized by the stunt.
"Unbelievable," said New Yorker Ren Brown. "I try not to judge, but that's just going too far."
Marjolainie Samson of Montreal found it "horrendous, but nowadays people will do anything to get publicity."
A spokesman for Edward Cardinal Egan said the incident, "if true, is disgusting."
A spokesman for WNEW-FM did not return calls for comment.
"The Opie and Anthony Show" has caused outrage before. The FCC has cited three of its past broadcasts as "indecent," and issued $7,000 fines for each.