In Buffalo, N.Y., parking meter mechanic James Bagarozzo has been arrested for stealing thousands’ worth of quarters from meters over the course of eight years. The city’s continuing investigations have led to more such suspects.
It is alleged that two former parking meter collectors, Mark S. Carlson and Franklin A. Lopez Jr., used an unauthorized second vault in city-owned vehicles to steal thousands of dollars in quarters during the course of their job. They were responsible for emptying parking meter canisters into a portable vault and transporting it to and from the City Hall. Both left their jobs after officials discovered the second vault.
The FBI widened its probe on parking meter theft the same day that Bagarozzo, an employee of the city with 30 years of service under his belt, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for stealing 840,000 quarters worth $210,000- a theft equivalent to a major bank heist. He has also been ordered to pay $210,000 in restitution.
Bagarozzo made easy money by stealing from 75 meters every day, from 2003 to 2011. Authorized only to fix broken meters, Bagarozzo busted working parking meters so coins would collect at top of the machines instead of falling into the collection canister, making it easy for him to scoop up the coins.
58-year-old Bagarozzo’s attorney says that the mechanic suffered from Crohn’s disease and wanted to provide for his family before he died.
The theft was revealed in 2011 when new Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer noticed a significant difference between revenues generated by the city’s new computerized pay stations and the old quarter-fed parking meters. Video surveillance exposed that Bagarozzo stole the city’s money on a daily basis. Helfer says that the city’s annual parking meter revenue has increased by more than $500,000 since the arrest.
FBI’s acting special agent Richard Frankel, in charge of the Buffalo Division, says “This case is a classic example of how public corruption strikes at the heart of government’s ability to serve its people.”
The sentencing of another former employee, Lawrence Charles, who was found guilty of stealing $15,000 in quarters over five years, has been postponed until August 29.
Although Helfer is tightlipped about the ongoing investigation, he reveals, “If there were others, they will be prosecuted.” Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda comments, “We are looking at other people. The case is ongoing. There may be more to it.”