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Athlete's case casts light on pot use

The Mitchell High student also never told his baseball coach about three burglary charges from 2002.

Published March 9, 2004

TRINITY - The future of Mitchell High outfielder Louis Oliveri, the youngest player named to the Times' All-County team last year, stands in jeopardy after new information Monday linked drug use to his arrest in January on a burglary charge in Clearwater.

Oliveri, a 16-year-old junior, was found at 6 a.m. Jan. 25, asleep in a Clearwater home police say he and Curtis Paulisin, 18, of Holiday broke into during the night. Paulisin, who dived through a window and fled after being discovered by a club-wielding homeowner, has faced previous charges ranging from larceny and burglary to grand theft auto.

Pasco County School District policy dictates that high school athletes be suspended for four weeks after any arrest, but Mitchell coach Phil Bell initially dismissed Oliveri from the team, saying he wouldn't allow him back until he was cleared of the charges. Bell later opted for a five-week suspension, with the support of Mitchell principal Tina Tiede and athletic director Ian Mooney, largely because the crime's victim, 60-year-old Stewart Penny, wrote him a letter asking for leniency and saying he would not be pressing charges against Oliveri.

Oliveri missed a month of practice, two preseason games and the first two games of the season. He returned Feb. 27, hitting a grand slam in his second at-bat. He was back in baseball, but what he hadn't told his coach was that this arrest violated probation from three burglary charges in 2002 and that he told police after his recent arrest that he had been smoking marijuana that night.

"I was not aware of all the factors I have now been shown when we made our decision," Bell said Monday. "Not even close."

According to arrest reports, Oliveri told police he and Paulisin were "hanging out with girls from Mitchell ... where they drank and smoked marijuana" the night before the arrest. He and Paulisin decided to go to Clearwater Beach, and Oliveri told police he asked Paulisin to drive his car because he was "too high to drive." His car got a flat tire in Clearwater, and when they couldn't fix it, Oliveri told police that Paulisin told him to follow him to his aunt's house.

According to police accounts, Paulisin broke glass in the side garage door of another home, entered it and welcomed Oliveri in by opening the front door.

Penny had $350 in cash stolen, and while it's unclear who took the money, Oliveri was arrested with $67 in cash in his front pants pocket, "not folded at all but wadded like spinach," according to police.

When Bell suspended Oliveri, he thought it was the player's first arrest. But in November 2002, he was arrested with another teenager and accused of removing items from unlocked parked cars in Oldsmar. His mother, Toni Boham of Holiday, said her son agreed to community service, wrote letters of apology, took behavior classes and was two weeks away from finishing his probation when this arrest took place.

Penny said Monday he wrote a letter to Bell because "the other person actually broke into the house" and Oliveri was simply "asleep in the chair."

Hours after his arrest, Oliveri lamented to police that the arrest could jeopardize his future in baseball. Asked why he would risk smoking marijuana, given such a promising future, he told the officer: "It's okay. It's the weekend."

Bell, who has a team talented enough to challenge for its first-ever playoff appearance, has taken a hard line with past off-field problems. Last year, he dismissed pitcher Tyler Clippard and teammate Derek Shortz after learning they had drunk alcohol. What he didn't know was that Clippard had also been charged with driving under the influence.

Bell said he extended Oliveri's initial suspension one week because his first game back would have come against rival River Ridge. Tonight, the Mustangs open their district season against the same team, and Bell will have to decide if Oliveri should take the field in a Mustangs uniform.

Despite Penny's wishes, Oliveri faced an arraignment last week on the burglary charge and a pretrial hearing is scheduled for March 29.

[Last modified March 9, 2004, 01:35:32]

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