[Alis] students stand up for integrity

kmccook at tampabay.rr.com kmccook at tampabay.rr.com
Sun Feb 22 12:19:37 EST 2009

Two USF students in bike case stand up for integrity.
Students in bike case stand up for integrity

By Rebecca Catalanello and Alexandra Zayas, Times Staff 

Published Saturday, February 21, 2009

TAMPA - Before the police statements were given and the 
university administrator resigned, before Inside Edition called, 
there was just this:

A surveillance video rolling in a room, as Tim Boyd and Christine 
Dillingham watched.

The $100 bike he loaned her had been stolen from outside the 
University of South Florida building where they worked. A facilities 
manager had found the culprit.

As the two men on the screen wheeled the cheap mountain bike 
away, the worker asked: "Do you know who that is?"

Stunned, Dillingham answered: "I think I do. But I don't want to 

It was Dr. Abdul Rao, the senior associate vice president for 
research at USF who made $384,280 a year.

He was powerful enough to control the program's grant money. 
To fire people.

If they spoke out, could he crush their careers?

o o o

Tim Boyd, 39, is a biological scientist who first enrolled at USF as 
an undergraduate in 1995. He's now a doctoral student 
conducting research on a drug he believes could slow or even 
reverse Alzheimer's disease.

After hours and hours of examining mouse brains, his studies are 
on the verge of publication.

Christine Dillingham, 22, is a senior with a double major, in 
biomedical sciences and psychology. She's about to start 
applying to medical schools and hopes to focus on neurosurgery.

They've been friends since she started working in the lab next to 
his, two years ago, at the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center 
& Research Institute.

Boyd remembers the time she showed up to a work function 
covered in bandages. She had been hit by a car while riding her 

He liked her work ethic. So when her bike broke down three 
weeks ago, he dusted off the one in his garage and loaned it to 

o o o

Rao knew they knew.

He summoned Boyd to a meeting in his office and closed the 

"Have a seat," the administrator said.

Rao explained that he thought Boyd's bike was abandoned, that 
he found it unlocked.

Boyd recalled Dillingham telling him she had locked the bike.

Rao said he was just trying to help a "semi-homeless" Miami man 
who does odd jobs for him. What he didn't say was that the man 
had a lengthy criminal record and sometimes stayed at his house.

"Tell the police it was a misunderstanding," Boyd recalls Rao 

Was Rao really using charity as an excuse for theft? Boyd asked 

That made him livid.

Every Sunday night, Boyd waits tables at the Melting Pot and 
donates all his earnings to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital 
in Memphis, in memory of a young relative who died of cancer.

Every Thursday and Friday, Dillingham volunteers at the H. Lee 
Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, working with 
patients' families, in memory of a woman she calls her "adoptive 
mother" who died of ovarian cancer when she was in high school.

She plans to spend her last spring break as an undergraduate 
serving cancer patients in Haiti.

This wasn't charity, Boyd thought as Rao spoke. And the bike 
wasn't unlocked.

o o o

Sitting across from Boyd, Rao didn't know about the detour the 
graduate student had taken just five minutes before.

Instinct had told Boyd to protect the video. He met the facilities 
manager in the elevator.

"We've got to do this right now," Boyd said. "It's imperative."

They got off the elevator and entered the room. Boyd pulled a 
thumb drive from his key chain and copied the video. Then, he 
ran upstairs to the lab and stuck the drive in a friend's computer. 
He copied the video again.

"Put this on a jump drive and get it out of here," he told the friend.

That video would spread onto YouTube.

No, Boyd told the powerful administrator, he wouldn't "tell the 
police it was a misunderstanding."

And he had no problem adding:

"The whole lab knows."

o o o

Rao maintains he isn't a thief. He returned the bike.

He denied allegations that he tried to coerce Boyd to lie to the 
police. He also attempted to withdraw his resignation on Friday, 
saying he felt rushed. USF says he is no longer an employee.

Boyd continues to field calls from professors, offering thanks.

"I was only interested in the bike, and now everyone wants to tell 
me their story," he said.

Dillingham gets high fives in the hallways for calling the police to 
file a report.

"I would rather keep my integrity intact instead of keeping silent to 
secure my future."

They think their careers will be just fine.

And they plan to auction the bike on eBay, to raise funds for St. 

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

. Time line

Missing bike leads to resignation

Feb. 9: Christine Dillingham parks the bike Tim Boyd lent her at 
the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute.

Feb. 10: Dillingham notices the bike is gone. She says the lock is 
left behind, wrapped around the railing and locked. She and Boyd 
file a police report.

Feb. 11: A security worker shows a video to Dillingham and Boyd. 
It shows Dr. Abdul Rao and another man taking the bike. Boyd 
copies the video. Rao meets with Boyd, who decides to press 

Tuesday: Rao announces he will resign.

Wednesday: Rao agrees to a settlement with USF that entitles 
him to $50,000 in exchange for his resignation effective this past 

Friday: Rao tries to rescind his resignation, saying he felt rushed, 
but USF says he is no longer an employee.

© 2009 o All Rights Reserved o St. Petersburg Times

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