Florida charges stun Cumberland

March 16, 1993|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

Teddy Ryan spent his first week as Cumberland's city administrator impressing the locals with his sure grasp of municipal matters, his eagerness to tackle the town's toughest problems and his courtly Southern manner.

He spent his second week in the Allegany County jail, charged in a Florida warrant with kidnapping, armed robbery and aggravated assault.

Needless to say, Teddy Ryan's introduction to Cumberland was a far cry from the crowning triumph city fathers were anticipating at the end of their six-month, nationwide search for new leadership for their battered little city.

"I have never experienced anything like this in my life and don't care to repeat it," said Mayor Edward Athey, who won election last summer on a promise of bringing professional management to Cumberland after two years without a city administrator.

On March 8, Mr. Ryan's second Monday at work, the mayor had proudly presented him to a luncheon of influential business executives at a local rib house named When Pigs Fly. The reception of Mr. Ryan -- a city manager with 25 years' experience, the last three in Stoneham, Mass. -- was enthusiastic. Both men were in high spirits as they returned to City Hall. Then, as they headed toward the administrator's office, a councilman quietly pulled the mayor aside while Police Chief Robert Dick arrested Mr. Ryan, his new boss.

Now Cumberland's prize catch is behind bars, unable to make his million-dollar bond. Mr. Ryan, 49, told a judge last week that he intends to resist extradition to Florida, which already is holding his alleged accomplice, his younger brother, Robert.

As Teddy Ryan was being led in chains to that court appearance, he told a cluster of reporters that police had the wrong man. The same day, in the only interview he has given since his arrest, Mr. Ryan told the Stoneham Patriot, a free weekly newspaper, that as a result of a near-fatal car accident in February, he has amnesia and can't remember anything that happened in January, when the crime occurred.

"I can't even tell you where I was in January," Mr. Ryan told the Stoneham paper during a telephone interview.

While Mr. Ryan claimed memory loss, three of the crime victims said they had a clear recollection of their assailants. They identified Teddy Ryan in a photo lineup.

Nevertheless, Mayor Athey says he continues to support Mr. Ryan, who was the unanimous choice over 98 other applicants for Cumberland's top government job. For now, Mr. Ryan is on leave with pay.

"You can't believe the down-to-earth type guy he is, and his wife," said the mayor, who said that Mrs. Ryan arrived in Cumberland only one day before her husband's arrest. "We're going to stand behind him unless we see another side of it."

The other side, he said, would be unmistakable proof linking "the most qualified man I ever met" to an ugly crime in Port Charlotte, Fla.

Florida police charge that on Jan. 22 -- four days after Mr. Ryan visited Cumberland to work out the details of his new contract -- the Ryan brothers held five people at gunpoint.

According to the police and the three adult victims, the Ryans entered the home of Joyce Zirko, the owner of a Port Charlotte spa, posing as prospective buyers of her home. Once inside, they pulled guns and with duct tape, tied up Ms. Zirko, her daughter and a friend, both 13, and real estate agent Kathy Green.

Their true target, though, was Ms. Zirko's boyfriend, Steve Duke, owner of a combination coin and pawnshop. When Mr. Duke arrived at the house, the men strapped explosives to his chest, which they said they could detonate with a remote control. They then forced him to retrieve more than $100,000 in cash from his store's safe. At the end of the all-day ordeal, the men left without injuring anybody.

But the threats were continuous.

"There was never a time during that day when I did not believe that I wouldn't end up dead," said Mrs. Green, 35. She said she was particularly concerned that the men had made no effort to hide their faces.

The victims said the men carried a semiautomatic gun equipped with a silencer and a 9 mm pistol. "They kept saying they didn't want to hurt anyone, but if they hurt one of us, they would hurt all of us," Mrs. Green said.

All three adults agree that the man they identified as Teddy Ryan did most of the talking. While his partner was verbally abusive, snarling threats, he was polite, attempting to keep everyone calm. "He would say 'yes ma'am' and 'no ma'am.' He reminded me of a cop," said Ms. Zirko. Nevertheless, she said, she didn't doubt his resolve. "He told us if anyone screwed up, they would kill us all."

At one point, one of the men stunned Mrs. Green with tear gas when she resisted being handcuffed. The men also forced her to undress and take off her pantyhose.

In spite of her ordeal, Mrs. Green managed a parting one-liner as the men left about 10 p.m. "Next time you want to buy a house," she called out to them, "call Century 21."

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