Quarter heist of nearly a quarter-million dollars gets man 30 months in prison

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Surveillance of James Bagarozzo (Courtesy: U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of New York)

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A heist of $210,000, all in quarters, led to a 30-month prison sentence for James Bagarozzo, a former Buffalo city employee of more than 30 years. Bagarozzo used his position as a parking meter mechanic to rig more than 75 meters over a period of eight years according to a media release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He and his accomplice, Lawrence Charles, were both arrested for the thefts in December of 2011.

Bagarozzo didn’t have authority to collect the coins, so he rigged the meters so that he could retrieve them before they reached the coin canisters.

“When he went to work, half of his day was spent stealing from the city,” Special Agent Rob Gross stated in the release.

Bagarozzo started the piecemeal robbery in 2003. He would transfer the quarters from deep-pocketed work pants into bags in his car. He rolled the quarters at home and exchanged the rolls for cash at a Buffalo bank. The FBI said the bank never suspected any wrongdoing because of a clever alibi that Bagarozzo maintained.

“The bank never suspected because Bagarozzo told the tellers he had a friend with a vending machine business,” Gross said. “He developed such a good relationship with the bank tellers that they eventually gave him boxes to use that held exactly $500 worth of quarters.”

The change gang got thwarted when the city appointed a new parking commissioner in September of 2010. The new commissioner noticed a significant difference in revenues from the old machines that Bagarozzo was supposed to fix and newer, electronic meters.

An internal investigation eventually got help from the Buffalo Police Department and the FBI. Bagarozzo and Charles were caught on video committing the thefts on a daily basis.

“Unless you were really paying attention, it looked like they were fixing the meters. In reality, they were stealing from them,” Gross said.

Bagarozzo agreed to pay $210,000 in restitution as part of a plea deal, he said he had used the stolen fund to pay for personal and family expenses. Charles is set to be sentenced for his role in two weeks.

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