Buffalo: From the moment parking meter mechanic James Bagarozzo began his scheme to steal from the machines, his life became overrun with quarters. He stashed them in his pockets, in a sack in his truck, in closets at his house.
Over more than eight years, he brought home USD 210,000 worth of quarters, 10,500 pounds (4,760 kgs) of them, which he dutifully rolled and packed in USD 500 boxes to be exchanged for cash at banks on his lunch hour.
On Friday, a judge imposed a 2 1/2-year sentence on Bagarozzo, who blamed a gambling addiction and an illness he believed would kill him before he built a nest egg for his family.
"With all its problems, the last thing the city of Buffalo needs is employees who don`t do what they`re paid to do," US District Judge Richard Arcara said as he rejected a defense plea for home confinement or community service.
From 2003 through 2011, the meter mechanic spent the first half of every workday stealing from 70 to 75 meters, prosecutors said. Rather than fix machines, he broke them so that quarters would collect on top where he could grab them with his hands instead of dropping into the collection canister.
Bagarozzo apologised during a brief statement to the court and said he accepted responsibility.
"I have hit rock bottom and I have had to come up with my family and friends," the 58-year-old said.
A former co-worker, Lawrence Charles, followed Bagarozzo`s lead, stealing USD 15,000 in quarters over about five years, prosecutors said. He was expected to get six months to a year in prison. His sentencing also was supposed to be yesterday, but it was postponed until August 29.
The employees came under scrutiny in 2011 after Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer noticed the city`s new computerised pay stations were bringing in far more money than the old quarter-fed parking meters.
"What may have begun as a theft of nickels and dimes, in the end was the equivalent of a major bank heist," US Attorney William Hochul said.
Since the arrests, the city`s annual parking meter revenue has increased by more than USD 500,000, Helfer said. At the time of his arrest, investigators found USD 40,000 in cash in the ceiling of Bagarozzo`s bedroom, USD 4,100 in a dresser and USD 3,000 worth of quarters in closets in bags and boxes around the house.
Prosecutors said the money allowed Bagarozzo to send his daughters to college and pay off his mortgage, but defense attorney James Harrington said virtually everything was lost at casinos.