Since James Bagarozzo and Lawrence Charles were arrested and accused of stealing thousands of dollars in quarters from city parking meters they were supposed to be repairing, City Hall has seen a significant increase in revenue from those meters.
In fact, the increased meter revenue – $600,000 – is more than double the amount Bagarozzo and Charles later admitted stealing.
Was more money taken?
Were others involved in the stealing?
Or are more people simply parking at city meters?
No one knows for sure, but the spike in revenue is significant enough that a federal judge delayed Bagarozzo’s sentencing Thursday.
“From December 2011 to the present time, the difference is substantial,” said U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
Arcara agreed to delay Bagarozzo’s sentencing after his attorney indicated he had just learned of the $600,000 figure – the city submitted it to the court – and wanted a chance to respond.
“What’s attributable to my client should be attributed to him, and what’s not should not,” defense lawyer James P. Harrington said.
As part of a plea deal, Bagarozzo admitted stealing $210,000 over an eight-year period.
Charles, as part of his agreement with the government, acknowledged stealing about $15,000 over the course of four years.
Federal prosecutors first brought up the jump in parking meter revenue in a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday.
In it, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura O’Donnell mentions a figure of $500,000 and describes it as significant.
Both figures – the $500,000 and $600,000 – came from the city.
The first figure represents the increase in parking meter revenue for the fiscal year ending in June of 2012, and the second figure is for the fiscal year ending last month.
Bagarozzo and Charles were arrested in December of 2011, almost midway through the 2012 fiscal year, so the $600,000 figure is the first concrete indication of the annual increase in revenue since the former parking meter mechanics were taken off the job.
City officials declined to comment on the reasons for the increase but in the past have indicated that parking meter use has historically remained constant with few ups and downs.
Does that mean more money was being stolen or that more people were involved in the thefts?
It’s no secret that City Hall employees have long suspected others of stealing money from the meters, maybe for several years.
City Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer said he could not speculate why the revenue has spiked so much over the past 18 months.
He did, however, express confidence that the city’s collection process is now free of any wrongdoing.
“I feel very, very confident right now that all the money that is being deposited in the meters is being deposited in the bank,” he told The Buffalo News.
It was Helfer, in fact, who initiated the internal City Hall investigation that led to the arrest of Bagarozzo and Charles.
It all started in October 2010, when Helfer, a former Common Council member hired by Mayor Byron W. Brown, noticed a huge difference in revenue collected from the city’s 1,200 parking meters and revenue collected from the newer pay-and-display stations.
Helfer discovered that the 128 pay-and-display stations, which cover 1,300 parking spaces, brought in an average of about $100,000 a month, while the 1,200 individual meters brought in only $15,000 to $20,000 a month.
His suspicions led to an investigation, authorized by Brown, that included GPS devices, surveillance cameras and a private investigator.
The results of the investigation were turned over to the FBI, which investigated further and eventually arrested Bagarozzo and Charles.
They later pleaded guilty to a single felony count of theft and conversion concerning programs receiving federal funds.
Over time, it became clear to city officials how the money was stolen from the meters Bagarozzo and Charles were supposed to repair.
They believe the meters were broken and then rigged in such a fashion as to prevent quarters from dropping into the lower, secured coin canisters that are removed when the meters are periodically emptied.
Instead, the quarters remained in the meter’s upper compartment, making it possible for the mechanics to steal the coins.