Famed jazz drummer Charlie Rice, 89, accused of stealing gasoline from Camden Board of Education pumps last year, will go on trial in June, the state says.
And while Rice continues to fight charges that could land him two years in jail, he's still playing drums. On Sunday, he'll appear at Ortlieb's Jazzhaus, in Northern Liberties, at a fundraiser aimed at bolstering his defense fund.
Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, said that of 13 people charged with theft in June, seven have entered not-guilty pleas.
Mike Pinsky, Rice's defense attorney, said that his client is the "last man standing" among the Board of Education employees in Camden charged with theft. Most of the defendants have been offered pretrial intervention, he said, which wipes off any criminal record associated with the charge.
"Ninety-nine times out of 100, PTI is a good thing," Pinsky said. "Charlie turned it down. He's not willing to do anything that may lead people to believe he was guilty."
Rice, who worked as an attendant at the city pumps, is charged with third-degree official misconduct and third-degree pattern of official misconduct for allegedly fueling personal vehicles there six times between Aug. 2 and Oct. 17, 2007, authorities said.
Rice, who was fired from his job with the school board after two decades, claims he was permitted to put about 20 gallons of gasoline into his car during the period in question, to cover his commute. And because neither of the city stations has a shelter, Rice said, he had to sit in his car between filling tanks to keep cool or to warm up.
Rice, who played with Chet Baker and John Coltrane, and who was the house drummer at the former Downbeat Club, in Philadelphia, will share the stage Sunday with renowned saxophonists Bootsie Barnes, Larry McKenna and Sam Reed.
"If you want jazz giants, they'll be there," said Suzanne Cloud, co-founder of the Jazz Bridge, a nonprofit organization that supports aging jazz musicians.
Sunday's benefit runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Ortlieb's Jazzhaus, 847 N. 3rd St., in Northern Liberties. Admission is $15. For information, call: Jazz Bridge at 215-517-8337 or 856-858-8914. To see a video about Rice's case, visit www.youtube.com