To Dr. Abul Rao, the vice president of USF Health, the bike he took from a loading dock was borrowed. The bike’s owner, however, said it was stolen.
Rao, who is on paid leave, is under investigation after helping a homeless man take a $100 bike from the loading dock of the Johnnie B. Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute.
The bike belonged to a doctoral student, Tim Boyd, who lent it to his friend, Christine Dillingham, a senior majoring in biomedical science and psychology. She said she parks the bike, which she uses to travel to class, at the loading dock each day and leaves it at the institute overnight.
Rao, who parks in the back of the center, said he had seen all the bikes almost always parked there. Because the center recently laid off 20 employees, he said he figured the bike had been abandoned by one of them.
“A lot of things have been left behind,” he said. “I truly believed it was an abandoned bike because it was always there.”
Rao said he borrowed the bike for a friend, Victor Waiters, who needed it for only one day — to obtain a new Florida identification card. Waiters, a homeless man who sometimes stays with his family in Miami, could not travel home on a Greyhound bus without an ID.
On the night of Feb. 9, Waiters had asked Rao if he could borrow a bike he had seen at Rao’s workplace, the Byrd Institute. Rao said he was unsure at first.
“He was being insistent, and I was being compassionate,” Rao said. “I knew he wouldn’t sell or steal the bike.”
Dillingham said she locked the bike Monday afternoon and returned the next morning to find it missing. She also said three other bikes, none of which had been locked, remained in the loading dock.
Rao said there had been no lock on Boyd’s bike, but a lock was wrapped around the handrail next to it.
“I’m very meticulous about my things. I’m a very meticulous person. I’m even more meticulous about things that I’ve borrowed from someone else,” Dillingham said. “I know I locked the lock. There is no question about it.”
The lock was a thick wire lock that could be opened only with a key, she said.
“I have both of the keys, and they have never been missing,” Dillingham said. “I don’t know how they opened that lock. I have no idea.”
Dillingham called Boyd to ask if he had taken the bike. Once they determined it was missing, they called University Police (UP) and filed a report.
UP treated the incident as a standard theft case. Dillingham said UP told her to let them know if the loading dock’s surveillance cameras revealed any further information.
Dillingham said when she returned to the center Wednesday at 11:00 a.m., the maintenance man suggested that she look at the tapes. During a second viewing of the surveillance footage, Boyd was able to determine that Rao was one of the men in the video.
“I was completely shocked to see that it was him on the cameras,” she said.
While Dillingham and Boyd watched the video, Rao said Waiters called him to say he was about to return the bike to the loading dock.
However, Rao said he was not aware that the police were notified of the missing bike until two women working at Byrd called him out of a meeting Wednesday. They said UP wanted to see the surveillance video.
Rao said he told UP the bike had not been stolen, but he had loaned it to a friend — and it had just been returned.
No more than an hour after they watched the tapes, Boyd was called into Rao’s office to discuss the matter, Dillingham said.
“Rao goes on to say that he wants Tim to tell the cops that it’s a big misunderstanding and that the bike wasn’t really stolen,” Dillingham said. “He basically was trying to tell Tim to lie to the cops and to take the report back and don’t press the charges.”
Rao said he might have tried to persuade Boyd to reconsider the situation.
“‘If you think my explanation is enough, I would request for you to consider dropping the charge’ — that is what I said to (Boyd),” Rao said.
Dillingham said that by the time the meeting between Rao and Boyd was over, the bike had been returned.
Rao said he did not buy Waiters a bike because he had bought him three others previously, and Waiters did not want to make Rao purchase another. Waiters left his bikes in Miami because of the cost of transporting them to Tampa.
“If he had called me earlier, I could have talked to people,” Rao said. “I was running against time.”
Rao said that he does not consider his actions theft, and that he just wanted to help someone.
“I admitted to borrowing a bike for this homeless person without prior consent,” he said.
USF spokesman Michael Hoad said the police investigation will be concluded quickly and the case will be sent to the state attorney, who will determine whether to continue prosecution.
The University is also taking action.
“In general, (USF) will review a case that involves someone at the University,” he said.
Until the case is concluded, Rao is on annual leave.
“It appears to be an error in judgment that he has freely admitted to,” Hoad said.
Dillingham said this incident has made her more wary of safety on campus.
“It reflects so much more than the theft of a bike,” she said. “It reflects someone that is not living up to the responsibility that their position requires.”
Rao said he meant no harm.
“There are cameras over there that I installed,” he said. “Would you go and steal a bike with cameras rolling that you had installed?”
He said there was no intent to steal the bike.
“There is no personal gain to me,” he said.