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USF administrator Rao changes mind about quitting

On Feb. 9, surveillance video at the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute captured Dr. Abdul Rao and another man as they took a bike and then drove away. 

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On Feb. 9, surveillance video at the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute captured Dr. Abdul Rao and another man as they took a bike and then drove away. 

TAMPA — Dr. Abdul Rao had one foot out the door of the University of South Florida when he turned and kicked it back open.

Rao, the USF administrator captured on video last week removing a student's bike from campus, fired off an e-mail to USF College of Health dean Stephen Klasko rescinding his resignation, which was supposed to have taken effect Friday.

The move came three days after Rao, 51, signed a legal document agreeing to leave quietly in return for a lump-sum payment of $50,000.

"I am convinced that the conditions under which the resignations were obtained were extremely unfavorable not giving me ample time to think through this very important decision," Rao wrote in the memo, which was sent shortly before midnight on Thursday. "I was given no option to consult a lawyer or a member of my family and was informed that I either resign or else."

Friday morning, administrators conferred with their attorney about how to respond. By 5 p.m., the university had decided to go ahead and shut the door itself.

"Our position is his employment is over," university spokesman Michael Hoad said. "And, anything different, his attorney will have to talk to our attorney."

Hired in 2006, Rao made $384,280 annually in a variety of posts, including senior associate vice president of USF Health and senior associate vice president of research.

On Feb. 9, surveillance video at the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute captured Rao and another man as they arrived in a minivan, removed a parked bike, rolled it down a ramp and drove away.

The bike belonged to Tim Boyd, a 39-year-old doctoral student and researcher at Byrd. He had loaned it to 22-year-old senior Christine Dillingham, who discovered it missing on the morning of Feb. 10 and filed a police report.

The case is now in the hands of the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, which will decide whether criminal charges should be brought.

Since the video surfaced, Rao has repeatedly said that he allowed Victor Waiters — a 45-year-old man whom he describes as "semi-homeless" — to take the bike so that he could use it to get a new ID card and to get to a job site.

Waiters of Miami has a lengthy criminal history. But Rao said Waiters does odd jobs for him and occasionally stays at Rao's house.

Reached by cell phone at 4 p.m. Friday, Rao said he was in the middle of a meeting and couldn't comment. He didn't return a call later in the evening.

But in his e-mail to Klasko, Rao wrote that he felt "the outcome is not compatible with the level of infraction and has placed my professional and personal life in serious conundrum."

He asked that USF complete its internal administrative investigation of the incident and issue a "judgment compatible with the committed infraction."

"I am certain that it would not amount to a call for resignation with a severance of six weeks and a professional life totally destroyed," he wrote.

After the incident came to light last week, administrators started an internal review to determine what, if any, discipline would be necessary. But they derailed that effort when Rao announced that he would be resigning.

Hoad, the university spokesman, said Friday that it wasn't clear what will happen to the internal investigation — or to the $50,000 in parting cash that the university agreed to pay.

Boyd said he has been called to a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the matter with administrators.

He said he'll bring an attorney. And a tape recorder.

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

USF administrator Rao changes mind about quitting 02/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 23, 2009 10:53am]
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