There is no denying Sabrina Rodriguez has talent.
The Fox40 anchor lists five Emmy awards on her Facebook page, and that doesn’t include two more she received at a gala ceremony June 14 in San Francisco, not far from the Bay Area home where she grew up and went to college.
Colleagues and supporters describe her as having the rare ability to fill the camera and mesmerize viewers.
“She was one of the most popular faces on Fox40 until today, and probably one of the most recognized faces in the Sacramento region,” said Doug Elmets, a high-profile communications and crisis management expert who knows Rodriguez. “I think there are a lot of people that believed Sacramento was simply a way station for a much more significant media market.”
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But somewhere along the way something went terribly wrong, authorities say. Her career at KTXL-TV ended Tuesday with her resignation in the wake of felony counts charging her with being involved in a shoplifting scheme last year with her fiancé, who has been jailed on separate charges that he burned down their south Sacramento home in May while manufacturing hash oil from marijuana.
The fiancé, 30-year-old Nicholas Gray, is being held in the Sacramento County jail without bail and is described in court documents as boasting of shoplifting up to $200,000 in clothing in a two-month span. He has not entered a plea in the case. Court records indicate Gray, a marijuana dispensary worker, has a criminal history that includes convictions for burglary, resisting an officer and using force against a woman.
Rodriguez, who is out of custody on $10,000 bail, has not commented publicly on her case, but issued a statement Tuesday afternoon distancing herself from Gray.
“As of today I have severed my ties with Nick Gray,” she wrote in a statement to The Sacramento Bee. “I am now focusing on life decisions as I move forward with the support of family, friends, viewers and the community.”
Her lawyer has denied the charges, and Rodriguez earlier announced her decision Tuesday to resign on her Twitter account and her Facebook page, where her profile photo shows her posing with two Emmy statues.
“I am heartbroken to say, I have decided to resign my position at Fox40,” Rodriguez wrote. “Given the recent media attention I feel it was the best decision to make.”
I am sad to say I've decided to resign from FOX40 to concentrate on my case and re-establish my good name. Thank you for all the support.— Sabrina Rodriguez (@SabrinaRFOX40) August 5, 2014
Rodriguez, 31, had been at Fox 40 since 2011, coming to the station from Bakersfield. She also has worked in Oregon and on the East Coast, and her résumé lists prestigious journalism awards that include a 2012 Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting and a 2008 Associated Press investigative reporting award.
The shoplifting allegations spilled into the open with the filing of charges Thursday against Rodriguez stemming from a shopping trip to the Folsom Outlets in March 2013.
That incident came three months after Rodriguez reported a Christmas Day story for the station on how easy one anonymous shoplifter found it to steal high-end purses from area shops. That story has since been removed from the Fox40 website, but its text has been reproduced on a site run by a former KTXL producer, thedesk.matthewkeys.net.
According to court documents, Rodriguez’s legal troubles stem from a March 26, 2013, shopping trip with Gray to the Coach store at the Folsom Outlets.
Another shopper told a store employee they saw Gray stuff several wallets into his bag and walk out without paying, and the employee called Folsom police, according to a case summary filed in Sacramento Superior Court. Employees determined 10 wallets worth $2,484 had been taken, and surveillance video from the store showed Rodriguez pick up a wallet and shake it at Gray, who then took it and others and placed it in his bag, court records state.
“It appears that Rodriguez is selecting wallets and helping conceal the actions of Gray as he places them in his bag,” a case summary filed in court states.
Rodriguez was detained at the outlets but denied knowing anything about a theft, court documents state. Gray left the area in her car before police arrived and refused to return when police asked Rodriguez to call him, according to court documents.
The investigation continued, and Gray subsequently was arrested May 16, 10 days after a fire and explosion destroyed the couple’s south Sacramento home in a blaze that injured a firefighter. Court documents indicate Gray set the house ablaze while manufacturing hash oil, a concentrated oily drug made from marijuana.
Rodriguez would later say that a fire at her home caused her to lose all of her on-air clothing and that colleagues and others donated clothing to help her.
“A month ago, I lost everything in a house fire, including all of my Emmys,” Rodriguez told an interviewer at the awards presentation in June, where she was photographed holding her two latest Emmy awards.
At the time of that gala, authorities already had been scouring a cellphone police seized upon Gray’s arrest, and turned up a number of text messages between his phone and Rodriguez’s phone.
One series of messages occurred on March 13, 2013, when Gray texted Rodriguez, “Outta Vacaville. So easy. Bcbg re arranged the store. So I got 100 dlr purses,” court documents state.
The documents indicate the text message was sent on the same day that employees at the BCBG store at the Vacaville outlets filed a police report on the theft of five purses worth $640.
Investigators also found photos on the phone, including one of someone in a car holding up a Nike shoe with the security tag still attached.
“The shoe is next to Rodriguez’s head while she is in the driver’s seat of a Ford automobile,” according to the documents, which add that Rodriguez drove Gray to San Francisco so he could sell the stolen merchandise.
Another text to Rodriguez’s phone, sent Feb. 1, 2013, read, “I got 8 cashmere sweaters plus skirts I got rent,” court documents state.
The documents also state that investigators retrieved audio files from Gray’s phone discussing his drug use and other topics, including an April 10, 2013, file in which he discusses using a “Faraday cage,” a bag used by shoplifters to thwart security sensors through the use of foil linings.
“During the file Gray boasts that he has stolen up to $200,000 worth of clothing within the last two months of the recording,” the documents state. “He states that while going to San Francisco to get his methadone he steals from places like BCBG.”
Despite the evidence outlined in court documents, Rodriguez still has many supporters, including viewers who were posting messages on her Facebook page Tuesday.
“The other local stations have already pegged you as guilty and are posting the stories in such a way as to form a lynch mob against you,” one wrote.
“I pray all your problems will be resolved fast,” another wrote. “I want to see you on TV again soon.”
Despite the gravity of the legal challenge, Elmets says he believes that may happen.
“It’s going to take some time,” said Elmets, a veteran of the Reagan White House who is volunteering his expertise to help Rodriguez. “She has not been convicted of anything. These are simply accusations and she will have an opportunity to re-establish her reputation and her career.”