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Tampa man accused of drowning rabbit has expensive criminal history

Lou Pearlman in happier days with a few of his posessions at his Orlando mansion. Inset: Steve Rodd, a former Pearlman conspirator, who was arrested June 19 on an animal cruelty charge. [Times files]
Published Jun. 23, 2015

TAMPA — Steven B. Rodd's life has gone very wrong in recent years.

In 2011, he was sentenced to three years in federal prison for aiding the $300 million Ponzi scheme run by Lou Pearlman, the boy band impresario who created the Backstreet Boys.

After Rodd got out in August, he told a judge he couldn't support his wife and three kids.

Three months ago, he lost his job as a cash-for-gold salesman.

More recently, his wife said they separated.

Then on Friday, Hillsborough County deputies said Rodd stood at the edge of the Vista Inn & Suites pool, holding a white bunny rabbit.

Rodd, 49, dropped the rabbit into the pool, deputies said.

He stood there for two minutes, watching. Then he walked away.

The rabbit drowned. Now Rodd is in the county jail, held without bond on a charge of aggravated cruelty to animals.

The incident took place around 9 a.m., and was captured by the motel's security cameras. Rodd was arrested later that day.

"The rabbit stopped struggling in the water after approximately (two) minutes and the suspect walked away," according to a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office report.

The rabbit was later discovered floating in the pool by a guest, the report said, and removed by motel staff.

Vista Inn manager Matt Saraswat said he watched the same security footage of Rodd that deputies saw.

"He walked up to the pool and dropped the rabbit in the pool," Saraswat said. "It hit the edge and hopped around a bit, and swam to the center of the pool where it drowned."

Saraswat said deputies told him more dead rabbits were found around the motel at 400 E Bearss Ave. One rabbit was found in a Macy's bag, and another was found in a nearby field. But a sheriff's spokeswoman said she had no information about other dead rabbits.

Rodd was also linked to rabbits by a Tampa police report filed on June 5. The report said a backyard breeder sold five rabbits to Rodd. But when two other rabbits disappeared, the breeder called police.

The report said Rodd admitting to stealing the rabbits, and returned them. No charges were filed. The Tampa police report did not disclose the whereabouts of the remaining rabbits.

Pearlman is now serving a 25-year sentence for masterminding a scheme that fleeced 1,000 investors out of at least $300 million and possibly as much as $500 million.

His pitchman in Tampa was Rodd. He sold $32 million worth of Pearlman's fake securities to often-elderly investors in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Those investors didn't know that the state had barred Rodd from selling securities in 1998 and 2003.

Rodd pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and was sentenced to three years. He was also ordered to pay $29 million to his victims and another $936,500 to the U.S. government.

When he got out of prison last year, he filed his own motion with the court asking a federal judge to reduce his $200-a-month payments for his crimes. Rodd said his financial situation was "dire."

Rodd said he made $1,000 a month and, together with his wife, the family brought in $2,500 a month. Rodd said he had no health insurance and paid $400 a month out of pocket in health expenses. Everyday expenses depleted the family's income, he told the court.

The judge denied Rodd's motion. The U.S. Attorney's Office said Monday that Rodd was current on his payments.

Rodd was also arrested in April on misdemeanor charges of petty theft and resisting detention, accused of trying to walk out of a Home Depot with $152.98 worth of pink breast cancer lanyards and ID badge sleeves. His bail on those charges was revoked because of his latest arrest, which is why he was still in the Hillsborough jail on Monday.

A Tampa police report listed Rodd's most recent job as a salesman at Quick Cash for Gold in Zephyrhills. But an unidentified person there said Rodd had been fired three months ago.

Rodd's wife and son declined to comment on Monday. But his wife said they recently separated.

Rodd may have been living at the Vista Inn. Saraswat said Rodd booked a room last week, told him he would be staying for a "week or two" and asked for a discount.

Another motel employee, Dixie Schoolcraft, said that after the rabbit was discovered in the water, Rodd returned to the pool area. He said nothing, she said, and acted normally. She wondered:

"Who would do that to a poor, defenseless animal?"

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

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