Lassiter's goal leads to arrest

Roy Lassiter's first goal for the U.S. national team awakened forgotten ghosts from a dark past.

The Raleigh, N.C., native was arrested in his hometown on Aug. 8 in connection with two 3-year-old burglaries, after police read newspaper accounts of his gamewinning heroics that gave the United States a 2-1 victory over Benfica for third place in the Parmalat Cup two days earlier.

``I read that he scored the goal and I figured the he's liable to come home,'' said veteran Raleigh detective W.E. Jordan.

The 26-year-old forward was charged with two counts of breaking and entering and grand larceny, plus one count of forgery (fraud) before being released on $5,000 bail.

"I haven't spoken to anyone about it. That was 3 1/2 years ago -- it's all behind me,'' admitted an apologetic Lassiter Aug. 12 at Newark Airport before for the flight to Sweden for the friendly international in Norrkoeping. ``I hope people don't judge me now for mistakes I made in the past.''

The two break-ins that he was connected to took place shortly after graduation from N.C. State in 1992. The first offense was committed on May 23 with fellow student Alfred Leonard Jr., who was tracked down by Jordan through a pawn shop, where the stolen items were fenced. The second offense was committed on July 8 with former Ohio Wesleyan star Wayne Street.

The forgery charges stem from a stolen check that Street tried to cash at a bank while Lassiter waited outside. Street was identified by bank videotapes leading to his arrest.

``Wayne came out without the check after the teller took too long to return to the window,'' Lassiter explained. ``That's when I knew I couldn't be involved with that racket anymore.''

The total value of the stolen property was approximately $26,500 according to Jordan.

Lassiter's agent, former U.S. national team defender Desmond Armstrong, said the police found items in Lassiter's apartment back in 1992 that linked him with the crimes, but that Lassiter left the country shortly after the incidents to begin a professional career in the Costa Rican First Division, where he has been for three years.

``I had pretty much forgotten about it,'' Lassiter admitted.

But Jordan hadn't and doesn't know how Lassiter could since Jordan made several calls in 1992 to Costa Rica and spoke to Lassiter's sponsor, his mother and met briefly with his brother.

Jordan said that he was reminded of the case earlier in the year after watching Lassiter play for his Costa Rican team, Alajuela, on TV and hearing the announcer mention that he would be returning to the U.S. to play in Tampa. Lassiter didn't make that trip because Alajuela made the championship playoffs.

In spite of his legal problems, he has concluded a deal with Major League Soccer, which bought his contract from Alajuela and is loaning him to Santos of Brazil immediately after the Sweden game.

Lassiter must return to Raleigh for a Aug. 30 court date, and he's confident that his playing career will not be affected by this setback.

He believes that the victim just wants monetary compensation and notes that his accomplices only got probation.

``I will pay restitution as the others did,'' he said, ``be that community service or whatever.''

He admits that he's upset that this came out right after he became a born-again Christian, but he must trust his new beliefs.

``The Lord knows what he is doing with my life,'' he explained. ``He guides me so I put all my faith in him.''

by Soccer America correspondent Jerry Hawkins

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