About 1.2 million quarters.
In a nutshell, that is what four city workers stole from Buffalo’s parking meters over the past 10 years.
The final tally of more than $300,000 became evident Tuesday when the last of the four pleaded guilty in federal court.
Franklin Lopez Jr., a former coin collector in the Parking Enforcement Department, admitted stealing $69,000 in quarters as part of a plea deal that could send him to prison for 16 months.
“He always had large amounts of cash with him,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura K. O’Donnell. “He appeared to live beyond his means.”
Arrested as part of a two-year investigation by the FBI, Lopez, 34, is the fourth and final city employee to admit he stole quarters from meters he was supposed to service.
Prosecutors claim Lopez used his stolen loot to finance a lavish lifestyle that included trips to Las Vegas and New York City.
Court papers detail a series of unexplained deposits and payments in his eight years at City Hall to suggest he was supplementing his part-time income with stolen quarters.
“It’s something I’ll always live with,” Lopez told U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara. “I always knew there were consequences.”
His guilty plea follows similar admissions by three other parking enforcement workers.
James Bagarozzo, a former parking meter mechanic, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for his role in a separate parking meter scam. By his own admission, Bagarozzo stole $210,000 over an eight-year period.
Lawrence Charles, a meter mechanic who admitted stealing $15,000 in quarters, was sentenced last October to six months in prison.
The third employee, Francis Tronolone, a parking meter mechanic, admitted stealing $9,000 over a 10-year period as part of a plea deal in December.
The thefts were uncovered by the Brown administration and investigated by the FBI.
The allegations against Lopez were different because of his job and how it gave him access to quarters in the meters.
His job, according to investigators, was to empty parking meters filled with quarters into a portable vault he transported to and from City Hall.
The allegation is that he used a second, unauthorized vault to steal from the meters.
City Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer, the man credited with uncovering the thefts, said Lopez’s plea concludes the parking meter investigation.
“From my knowledge, yes, this is the end,” Helfer said Tuesday. He thinks the city is better equipped now to identify and deal with employee thefts.