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Two city of Buffalo employees charged with stealing from parking meters

WBFO file photo
Parking meter

Two city workers have been charged in connection with the theft of thousands of dollars from the City of Buffalo.  

An FBI probe lead to the arrests of 56-year-old James Bagarozzo and 39-year-old Lawrence Charles, both of Buffalo. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura K. O'Donnell, who is handling the case, stated that the defendants are employed as parking meter mechanics for the City of Buffalo.  In this capacity, both defendants had the responsibility of repairing defective parking meter machines, but were not authorized to collect any money deposited into the machines.

The men are charged in two criminal.  According to the complaints, the defendants allegedly used their positions as city employees to steal money from the city parking meters.  The complaint even accuses the defendants of rigging parking meters in order to make it easier to access and steel the meter money.

It is very frustrating. You would like to believe that type of corruption doesn't happen, but I will tell you, what I have told you over and over again, it will not be tolerated," said City of Buffalo Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer. 

Helfer said the probe was launched a year ago when he was tipped off about the thefts.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both.  

In the time period of 2003 to 2011, the Bagarozzo Complaint alleges that the defendant systematically stole an estimated $210,000 from the parking meters he was charged with repairing.

The complaint indicates that agents also recovered approximately $40,000 hidden in the ceiling of the defendant's bathroom as well as $3,000 in quarters and another $4,100 in cash.

Regarding defendant Charles, the complaint alleges that Charles stole between $3,363 and $4,712 in one 32 day period, and additional funds over various months in the time period from 2009 to 2011.

Mayoral spokesman Michael DeGeorge says both workers have been suspended and face possible termination. 

"Public corruption by an employee at any level of government is a breach of the public's trust," said U.S. Attorney Hochul. "This Office stands committed to pursuing any allegations regarding public corruption wherever it occurs.  This case should serve as a warning to any individual who would consider committing similar behavior."   

“Today’s developments demonstrate the FBI’s continued commitment to identify and defeat public corruption on all organizational levels," said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Piehota."With the initial and continual support of the City of Buffalo’s Parking Commissioner, Kevin Helfer, the FBI and the Buffalo Police Department worked collaboratively to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion.”

The arrests are the culmination of an investigation on the part Special Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christopher M. Piehota and the Buffalo Police Department, under the direction of Commissioner Daniel Derenda.