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Ponzi schemer's bunny toll: two dead, two unaccounted for, one survived

Rodd was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals.
Published Jun. 26, 2015

TAMPA — Five bunnies have been linked to multimillion-dollar fraudster Steven B. Rodd, who was accused last week of dropping one of the rabbits into a motel pool and watching it drown.

Now authorities believe they know the fates of the other bunnies — at least most of them.

One of the drowned rabbit's siblings is also dead. One is alive.

Two of the bunnies, however, are not yet accounted for.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office confirmed that two of the rabbits are dead. There's the rabbit whose body was found floating in the Vista Inn & Suites pool on June 19, which resulted in a charge of aggravated cruelty to animals for Rodd, 49.

Another rabbit was found wrapped in a Macy's shopping bag and thrown onto the motel roof. Rodd told deputies that the bunny died of natural causes, and that he flung it up there because he didn't know what else to do with it. He was not charged in that rabbit's death.

When the deputies went to clear out Rodd's room last Friday, they found a cardboard box. Inside were carrots and a water bottle — and a bunny rabbit, very much alive.

The rabbit was taken to Animal Alternatives, a veterinary practice next door to the Vista Inn. Veterinary technician Liz Grasso said an unidentified employee took the bunny home. She said the rabbit, a baby girl now named Parsnip, is doing well.

Rodd told deputies he gave away another of the rabbits, sheriff's spokeswoman Cristal Bermudez Nunez said, but revealed no other details.

Yet another rabbit was found dead in a field next to the motel, Nunez said.

Rodd, however, denied that it was one of his rabbits.

Officially, that leaves two of the five rabbits unaccounted for.

It was the latest in a downward spiral for Rodd, who was the Tampa pitchman for ex-music mogul Lou Peralman's $300 million Ponzi scheme. In 2011, Rodd was sentenced to three years in prison and promised to pay nearly $29 million in restitution.

Rodd got out in August. He tried to reduce his monthly restitution, but a judge rebuffed him. Three months ago, Rodd lost his job at a cash-for-gold store in Pasco County. More recently, his wife said they separated.

A week after his arrest, Rodd remained in the Hillsborough County jail on Thursday. He was being held without bond for violating the conditions of his release from an arrest in April.

Breeder William Miller, who sold the rabbits to Rodd on June 5, regrets he didn't take them back when he had the chance.

Miller said Rodd told him he bought the bunnies for his wife and daughter. He wanted to buy more but didn't have the money. Rodd said he'd be back.

The next day, two rabbits went missing from Miller's back yard, including his daughter's pet, a rare blue-eyed bunny.

Tampa police said it was Rodd. He apologized, returned the two rabbits and offered to bring back the other five, too.

Miller didn't press charges and told Rodd to keep the bunnies.

"Just take care of them," he told Rodd.

And, Miller added: "I didn't want to ruin his life."

After that incident, Miller said he moved the rest of his bunny brood to a friend's farm in Polk County for safekeeping.

"They're like my kids," he said.

Contact Emily McConville at (813) 226-3374 or emcconville@tampabay.com. Follow @emmcconville.

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