USF police turn over bike case to state prosecutors

TAMPA — University of South Florida police have asked state prosecutors to decide whether a university vice president should be charged in a bike theft.

Dr. Abdul Rao, senior associate vice president for research at University of South Florida Health, was captured on surveillance video last week accompanying a man as he removed a red mountain bike from the loading dock at the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute.

Rao has admitted a lapse in judgment, but maintains he was lending the bike to a "semi-homeless" man who does odd jobs for him.

He said the man, Victor Waiters, 45, told him the bike would help him replace his ID and get to County Line Road to work.

Rao said Monday that he has bought Waiters three bikes in the past and decided this time to lend him one of the bikes from the loading dock — bikes he said he thought were abandoned.

But Tim Boyd, the graduate student who owns the bike, said that when the video surfaced, Rao tried to pressure him to drop the charges, chalking it up to a misunderstanding.

Boyd declined.

Lt. Meg Ross of USF police said Monday that the agency has turned over the case to the State Attorney's Office because the charge would amount to misdemeanor petty theft.

Meanwhile, USF administrators are reviewing the incident to determine what, if any, discipline is warranted.

University spokesman Michael Hoad said that while the incident itself does not amount to a serious crime, its implications upon his position of leadership warrant a second look.

"It's the circumstance of it being a student (who is the victim) and him (Rao) having admitted a lapse in judgment," Hoad said.

Rao said he learned only Wednesday of concerns about the bike. He said Waiters was on his way to return it at that point.

Rao said he contacted YouTube to have the video removed from its Web site. A second version of the video, however, popped up Friday. It shows Waiters and Rao looking over bikes at the loading dock before Waiters walks one down the ramp and both men leave.

Rao, hired in 2006, has taken a paid leave from his job while the police and university review the incident. His contracted salary is $269,280, plus administrative stipends totaling $115,000, for a total compensation of $384,280, according to the university.

He said that while he takes responsibility for making a bad decision, he thinks the flap over the bike opened floodgates to those who were unhappy with him for making changes at USF.

"This is an opportunity for people who are not supportive to take a stab at me," he said.

Boyd's bike is valued at about $100, according to a police report.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

USF police turn over bike case to state prosecutors 02/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 16, 2009 11:08pm]

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