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Handyman at center of USF official's stolen bike flap has his own troubles

Victor Waiters, back, and Dr. Abdul Rao were caught on video Feb. 9 taking a graduate student’s bicycle from the Johnnie B. Byrd Alzheimer’s Center & Research Institute.

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Victor Waiters, back, and Dr. Abdul Rao were caught on video Feb. 9 taking a graduate student’s bicycle from the Johnnie B. Byrd Alzheimer’s Center & Research Institute.

MIAMI — The handyman who helped topple a University of South Florida administrator hasn't visited his mother in years.

He leaves a trail of women angry about the child support he owes. He gets in trouble for having cocaine.

Victor Waiters is out there, somewhere.

With him, maybe, is a good explanation for why he needed a $100 bike more than Abdul S. Rao needed a $384,000 job.

Waiters, 45, and Rao, 51, were caught on video Feb. 9 taking a graduate student's bicycle from the Johnnie B. Byrd Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute. Rao, a senior associate vice president for research, admitted his role. He resigned and then rescinded his resignation. He explained his actions as a "lapse in judgment."

But, above all, he praised Waiters, calling him "trustworthy" and "extremely hard-working." Waiters, in Rao's view, was just down on his luck and trying to make it off the "poverty bubble."

"He is a proud person," Rao said. "He has so much pride, he will not take a handout."

Court papers suggest an alternate image of the man Rao befriended and occasionally let stay in his $441,738, Cory Lake Isles house.

Arrested 29 times, Waiters was twice convicted of cocaine possession and once of marijuana possession, records show.

Four women say he fathered five children between them. And, despite the four paternity lawsuits, Waiters rarely pays child support, records show.

A magistrate wrote in 1995 that Waiters "does not seem to be interested in obtaining a job." At the time, he owed $5,000 to the mother of his 6-year-old son.

His state driving record lists him as a "habitual traffic offender." His license has been revoked for more than a decade. There are 28 entries for failing to pay a fine or go to court. The agency lists his address as "unavailable."

His own mother, Anna Waiters, an 80-year-old retired nurse, did not have Victor's phone number until a news reporter gave it to her.

The Times reached Victor Waiters just once, by cell phone on Feb. 13. He has not returned calls since and could not be located.

• • •

As she talks about Waiters in the immaculate living room of her Coconut Grove home, his mother pulls out a framed picture of Victor as a teen, smiling over the shoulder of his brother.

Waiters came from a good family, by all accounts, one where children finish high school and go on to college. He grew up in Coconut Grove, one of eight children. His siblings include a teacher, a nurse and a former NFL player.

Their father, Army veteran Charlie Waiters, cooked meals at a hospital. At home, the elder Waiters washed and ironed clothes.

Their mother used to bring Victor to Mercy Hospital, where she worked. Nuns fawned over him.

"He's a well-brought up guy," says his sister Vanessa. "We're highly educated people. We're not the average throw-away family."

Van Waiters, Victor's younger brother who played six years with the Cleveland Browns, listened with interest to a tale of the bike theft. He thinks he last saw Victor about six months ago in Miami.

The bicycle flap up in Tampa surprises Victor's mother, siblings and ex-girlfriends.

"It's not adding up to all of us," said Vivian Foster, a sister. "It seems like there are some holes."

They didn't know Victor was in Tampa.

And they'd never heard of Rao.

When they hear facts of the case, they don't understand the connection between the two men.

Rao, who did not respond to interview requests for this story, previously said he met the handyman through other people after moving to Tampa in 2006. He declined to name them. He said Waiters was recommended to him for odd jobs and lawn work.

Rao described Waiters as "semi-homeless." Sometimes he stayed with people who gave him work. Sometimes he stayed in economy motels.

Vanessa Waiters wonders if Rao just used her brother as a scapegoat.

"Tell Dr. Rao to put it on someone else," she said. "He's a professional. Why is he associating with a 'semi-homeless' person?"

• • •

In the Feb. 13 phone interview, handyman Waiters took full responsibility for the bike theft.

He said he pressured Rao into it.

He said he needed a bike so he could get an ID. He hoped to pedal to a house in north Hillsborough County.

He thought he had work there.

• • •

Waiters' ex-girlfriends say they never know his whereabouts.

"He's a very peculiar person," said June Flood, 43, who has two boys, ages 19 and 16 named after Waiters: Victor and Von.

She says that Waiters' family members are "decent people" who have stayed in her children's lives.

But Waiters is another story. "He's got two big boys and the way they feel is they don't have a father," Flood said.

Flood filed a paternity lawsuit against Waiters 10 years ago. She raises the boys on her pay from Nordstrom, where she has worked for seven years.

The case file is loaded with documents claiming Waiters has failed to meet his $59.84 per week child support payments.

At times, he offered excuses to the magistrate: He didn't pay because he was in jail. Or there was a storm. Or his lawn equipment was stolen.

Each time, the court referred him to an employment assistance program.

"He just went astray," said Vochae Johnson, another of the women who sued him.

Asked whether child support responsibilities might keep him from surfacing more often, a sister shrugged that off.

It wouldn't explain why he doesn't keep up with his family, Vivian Foster said.

"Only he knows why he's doing what he's doing," she said.

The last time Rao spoke with the Times about Waiters, he indicated the handyman was on his way back to Miami on a bus.

That's news to his family.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Handyman at center of USF official's stolen bike flap has his own troubles 02/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 11:22am]

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