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LIRR workers face charges in copper theft

It may be several months before a state

It may be several months before a state appeals court decides whether the controversial MTA payroll tax stays or goes, but business owners still have to act fast if they eventually want to get back all the money they've paid toward the tax, officials said. This is a train in the LIRR station in Huntington. (July 25, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Fifteen Long Island Rail Road signal workers face charges of stealing and reselling hundreds of thousands of dollars in copper wire, sources close to the investigation said Wednesday.

The employees, with LIRR experience ranging from 6 to 30 years, are to be indicted Friday in Nassau County, the sources said.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority police notified the workers of the charges on Tuesday. They were immediately removed from duty and will be suspended without pay after being formally charged, the sources said.

The signalmen, who install and maintain communications lines along railroad tracks, are accused of stealing old copper wire that was being replaced and new wire, and selling it at scrap yards, according to the sources. Copper wire thefts occurred at the LIRR yards in Babylon, Brooklyn and Jamaica, the sources said.

Sales of the copper netted the thieves more than $200,000, the sources said. The scheme was uncovered in an investigation by the MTA Police, the MTA inspector general's office and the Nassau County district attorney's office.

A spokesman for MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger declined to comment.

The LIRR workers face felony charges including grand larceny and possession of stolen property.

Christopher Natale, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56 -- the union representing the workers -- said the charges came as a "shock" to him.

Natale said the workers will be represented by their own lawyers, and would have to go through standard LIRR disciplinary procedures before they could be fired.

He said the 15 workers represent about 20 percent of the communication department's line team. The union and railroad are scrambling to figure out how to complete a variety of signal projects with a reduced staff, he said.

"It's definitely going to impact our ability to do work here," Natale said. "We have to wait to see what the charges are, but no way would we ever condone stealing from the railroad."

LIRR president Helena Williams said in 2008 that the agency gets more than $1 million each year by selling scrap metal, including copper wire, collected from its 700 miles of track.

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