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The Unlikely Way This Parking Meter Mechanic Was Busted for Stealing More Than $200,000 in Quarters

...Including $40,000 stashed Tony Soprano-style in his bedroom ceiling.

James at work (Credit: AP via YouTube)

Parking-meter mechanic James Bagarozzo figured he had the perfect plan:

  • Rig meters to dole out quarters as he'd "service" them daily;
  • Stash the coins in bags and his deep-pocketed work pants;
  • Courier the loot home where he'd roll the quarters in coin wrappers;
  • Take the rolls to the bank and exchange them for cash.

Since he only tampered with about 75 of the 1,200 mechanical meters in his Buffalo, N.Y., work area, who would suspect?

James Bagarozzo at work (Credit: AP via YouTube)

For a while the plan worked. Really worked. To the tune of $210,000 in stolen quarters (about 10,000 pounds total) over the course of eight years.

The caper even went undetected at the bank, where Bagarozzo—claiming he knew a guy with a vending-machine business—had developed such a congenial rapport with tellers that they started giving boxes to the meter thief that held exactly $500 worth of quarters. Which made things even simpler for the three decade-long parking department employee, who then went to the bank several times a week with the special box and got cash in return, the FBI notes.

Unfortunately for Bagarozzo, a nemesis came on the scene: New parking commissioner, Kevin Helfer, who took a stark look at finances and couldn't help noticing the big difference in revenue between the city’s mechanical meters (which Bagarozzo targeted) and newer electronic machines (which he left untouched).

In September 2010, the city’s Division of Parking Enforcement began an investigation that expanded to include the Buffalo Police Department – and then the feds.

As seen on surveillance video (below), it appears a camera was installed inside Bagarozzo's vehicle. By December 2011, the jig was up.

(Credit: AP via YouTube)

(Credit: AP via YouTube)

Soon investigators found some $47,000 in cash and quarters in Bagarozzo’s home, the FBI reports, including $40,000 stashed Tony Soprano-style in his bedroom ceiling.

Bagarozzo, 57, pled guilty last September to theft and was recently sentenced to two and a half years in prison and agreed to pay restitution of $210,000. According to the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, Bagarozzo used the meter money to pay for personal and family expenses, the FBI said.

Since Bagarozzo was caught, Buffalo's annual parking-meter revenue increased by a whopping $500,000.

It seems the city's learned a lesson or two as well; now Buffalo's meters are computerized and take credit cards and coins, and are nearly impossible to rob, the FBI adds.

Check out the surveillance video of Bagarozzo "at work" via the Associated Press:

(H/T: Digg)

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