Man admits nabbing $15G in parking meter quarters

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BUFFALO -- A parking meter mechanic pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing at least $15,000 in quarters from city meters over about five years and said a co-worker had shown him how to do it.

The co-worker, suspected of stealing $210,000 since 2003, is expected to plead guilty tomorrow.

"It was me being foolish and stupid," Lawrence Charles, 40, told a federal judge before pleading guilty to theft.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura O'Donnell said Charles rigged about 10 parking meters so that the quarters would collect in the upper part of the meter, which he could access, rather than fall through to the lower collection canister. He also obtained a key that gave him unauthorized access to the lower chamber and would replace full canisters with empty ones, O'Donnell said.

Charles worked for the city for 17 years and was a meter mechanic from 2007 through December 2011, when the thefts took place, authorities said.

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Charles and co-worker James Bagarozzo came under scrutiny last year after their boss, parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer, noticed a big discrepancy in the amount of money the city's new computerized pay stations were bringing in compared with the older quarter-fed parking meters.

Helfer hired a private investigator who used surveillance on suspected employees.

City spokesman Michael DeGeorge said Charles and Bagarozzo were suspended without pay after their arrests in December and will be fired after their convictions.

Bagarozzo's attorney didn't immediately respond to a telephone message Tuesday.

Yesterday's plea agreement specifies a prison sentence of 6 to 12 months and requires Charles to pay $15,000 in restitution. -- AP

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