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Bicycle owner says USF dean wants bike theft charges dropped

TAMPA — The owner of the bicycle that University of South Florida vice president Abdul Rao is accused of taking said Saturday that Rao asked him not to press charges and tell police it was a misunderstanding.

"He was trying to get me to lie to the police," doctoral student Tim Boyd said. "It couldn't have been a misunderstanding because I had never had a conversation with him."

A surveillance video, now posted on YouTube, shows Rao accompanying another man to the loading docks at the Johnnie B. Byrd Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute on Monday night.

In the video, Rao's companion, Victor Waiters, who Rao says is a semi-homeless man who does odd jobs for him, walks a bike down a ramp, and later the minivan the two arrived in drives away.

After the video was shown to police Wednesday, bike owner Boyd said he was summoned for a closed-door meeting in Rao's office. "He wanted me to tell the cops it was just a misunderstanding," Boyd said.

Boyd said he thought it was odd that Rao spoke to him after the surveillance was released, instead of shortly after the bike was taken Monday night. A missing bike report was filed with campus police Tuesday.

Rao has said he was simply trying to help a man down on his luck. He said he thought the bikes had been abandoned and that Waiters was going to bring it back.

On Saturday, Rao said he never asked Boyd to lie. "I told him 'I'm sorry. This is a misunderstanding,' " he said. "And, if you can, consider dropping the charges."

Boyd doesn't plan to.

Instead, he said he hopes Rao loses his position at USF, where he holds several titles, including senior associate vice president for research. Rao is already taking paid annual leave from his USF post, which nets him $384,280 annually.

Their stories also diverge when it comes to the question of whether the bike was locked.

The surveillance video shows undergraduate student Christine Dillingham, 22, leaning the bike — which Boyd loaned to her about two weeks ago — against a rail in the loading dock. She said she locked the bike securely with a coil lock, although that's unclear in the video because it's at the edge of the screen.

"I always make sure it's locked," she said, adding that the coil circled the frame.

Rao said that the bike wasn't locked. He said he thought it was abandoned, along with other bikes in the loading dock.

But Dillingham said there's no way someone could have thought it was abandoned, because the bike looked new, was locked and had only been brought to the docks for about two weeks.

"It's not like the bike just sits there collecting dust. There's nothing abandoned about it," she said.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Bicycle owner says USF dean wants bike theft charges dropped 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 10:12pm]
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