Parking Meter Mechanic Sentenced for Stealing $210,000 in Quarters

The city employee would roll the coins on his lunch break and stash them in his bedroom ceiling

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U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York / AP

In this Oct. 13, 2011 image taken from surveillance video and released by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office, former parking meter mechanic James Bagarozzo lifts a bag of quarters off the the seat of a truck while working his job in Buffalo, N.Y.

Maybe the urge to keep loose change in his pocket was simply too much.

If so, that urge will now cost James Bagarozzo, a Buffalo, N.Y., parking meter mechanic,  far more than he ever got from stealing $210,000 from the curbside machines.

On Friday, Bagarozzo, 57, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for the thefts, which he got away with for more than eight years between 2003 and 2011 by using his technical skills to rig about 70 city meters so that he could collect from them, then exchange the coins for cash at a local bank during his lunch hours. In total, he rolled more than 10,000 pounds of quarters.

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A co-worker, Lawrence Charles, collaborated with Bagarozzo and stole $15,000 in quarters over a five year period, prosecutors said.  He is set to be sentenced on Aug. 29.

The two workers got caught after Buffalo parking commissioner Kevin Helfer noticed that the digital pay stations the city uses were making more money than the old quarter-fed machines, according to court documents. An investigation was launched and video surveillance footage showed that Bagarozzo was stealing from the old meters on a daily basis.

After being questioned by the FBI, Bagarozzo admitted to the thefts, which constitute a federal crime, and was arrested in December of 2011. A search of his home turned up $40,000 in cash stashed in his bedroom ceiling.

Since Bagarozzo and Charles were arrested, yearly parking meter revenue in the city has increased by $500,000. The current machines in Buffalo are computerized and take credit cards and coins, and are nearly impossible to rob.

Bagarozzo apologized in a brief statement to the U.S. District Court: “I have hit rock bottom and I have had to come up with my family and friends,” he said. Bagarozzo’s attorney James Harrington said the thefts came from a gambling addiction that got out of control. “It was rooted really in this spiraling addiction that he had,” he told the Associated Press.

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Stealing from parking meters is not unique to this case, however. In 2012,  a Fort Lauderdale man and woman were charged in the theft of more than $65,000 from parking meters. In 2009, an Alexandria,  Va., meter repairman was accused of stealing $170,000 in coins from the machines.