TAMPA — Paul Miller, the father of the USF football player at the center of the incident that led to coach Jim Leavitt's firing last year, was arrested last week on a felony charge of grand theft, accused of taking a woman's wallet from a cart in a New Tampa supermarket.
Miller, 59, a retired Tampa police officer, was arrested late Thursday night by Tampa police and later released on $2,000 bond. According to the arrest report, video cameras at the Publix on Cross Creek Boulevard showed him Wednesday picking up a Coach brand wallet left in a shopping cart and putting it in his pants pocket. The report said Miller admitted to putting the wallet in his pocket and not turning it in to store employees, but said he left the wallet in the cart before he left the store. The wallet was not recovered, and the arrest report says camera footage does not show a wallet in his cart at checkout.
Miller's son, Joel, was allegedly grabbed by the throat and slapped twice by Leavitt during halftime of a 2009 USF football game, and Paul Miller was quoted in the initial Fanhouse.com story that led to USF's investigation and the coach's subsequent dismissal. Leavitt filed a wrongful termination suit and USF eventually paid him $2.75 million in a January settlement. Joel Miller is a senior receiver on this year's Bulls team and caught a key pass in overtime that set up the winning score in USF's win at Miami in November.
The alleged victim, 24-year-old Alaina Winchell of Tampa, told police the wallet was valued at $85 and had $280 in cash inside, pushing the value of the theft above the $300 limit for a misdemeanor, making it a felony charge. Miller was identified after a Publix employee recognized him on security camera footage as a regular customer and remembered his vanity license plate, "BEEGOOD," according to the arrest report.
The report states that Miller initially "denied any knowledge of the offense" and "changed his story numerous times" and "at one point claimed he saw a small child (that) may have taken the wallet." Reached by phone Monday, Paul Miller said the incident was a "misunderstanding" and expressed disappointment that he was charged by the same law enforcement unit that he worked for until retiring in 2005.
"I don't know why they did what they did. There should have been a little professional courtesy," Miller said by phone. "You know, they're treating me like I was ... Gosh, come on now. I was a cop for 25 years. I was in the military. What are you doing to me here? Don't get me wrong. I don't want preferential treatment from cops. ... They did their job and did their job well. I'm not saying anything about the officers."
The police report quotes Miller as saying he would "pay the victim back for any losses," but Monday he said he hadn't done that. "How much could it be, like 15 bucks?" he said. "I never even looked at it, so I don't know." According to the arrest report, Miller has retained high-profile Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, who had also represented his son during the Leavitt case, though no legal action was taken by the Miller family.