Theft charges dropped against Habs' O'Byrne in Tampa nightclub affair

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MONTREAL - Charges levied against a Montreal Canadiens defenceman following an incident at a Tampa Bay nightclub last February have been dropped.

Ryan O'Byrne, 24, had been charged with grand theft.

Hillsborough County, Fla., state attorney Pam Bondi says the charges against the Victoria, B.C., native were dropped after he apologized to the victim and agreed to do community service in Canada.

"He completed a diversion program and read a letter of apology to the victim in the case," Bondi said Tuesday.

"He showed us proof that he's continuing to do community service work in Canada and that he has stayed out of trouble for the last five months, so we dropped the charges."

O'Byrne and teammate Tom Kostopoulos were arrested outside Whiskey Park, a Tampa nightclub, in the early morning hours of Feb. 11. O'Byrne was accused of stealing a woman's purse and Kostopoulos was accused of resisting arrest.

The incident occurred following the Canadiens' annual rookie dinner, where new recruits pick up the tab for an expensive meal at a restaurant.

Charges against Kostopoulos were dropped a few weeks after the incident.

Neither player faced sanctions from the hockey club but both apologized hours after being sprung from jail by teammates.

O'Byrne and the Canadiens organization declined to comment on Tuesday.

Bondi said O'Byrne will always have a record of his arrest but won't have any conviction in the United States, which could have caused problems for his hockey career.

"We have intervention programs here for first-time offenders," Bondi said of the community service O'Byrne faces.

The hulking O'Byrne, a six-foot-six defenceman, signed a three-year deal with the Canadiens two weeks ago.

A third-round draft choice of the Canadiens in 2003, O'Byrne split the beginning of last season between the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Canadiens before establishing himself as a regular presence on the NHL club's blueline.

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