City Employees Accused of Stealing Thousands Appear in Federal Court

December 15, 2011 Updated Dec 15, 2011 at 6:40 PM EDT

By Kyla Igoe

December 15, 2011 Updated Dec 15, 2011 at 6:40 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW) -Two City of Buffalo employees appeared in federal court Thursday following their arrests Monday for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in city parking meter money. 56-year-old James Bagarozzo and 39-year-old Lawrence Charles, both parking meter mechanics, are charged with theft of governmental funds following a joint investigation. They both waived their right to a preliminary hearing in court. Last Spring, Buffalo Parking Enforcement Commissioner Kevin Helfer began a review of his department and noticed major discrepancies with parking meter revenue. Helfer believed thefts were occuring and the city hired a private investigator. It was discovered that Bagarozzo and Charles were allegedly rigging the meters and stealing the money inside.

"They tampered and rigged the meters. They would then repair them and take the money out of the top of the meter," said Commissioner Helfer.

Federal Justice Jeremiah McCarthy has allowed the prosecution and defense attorneys 60 days to analyze the case. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown says he has every intention of terminating the employees. Baggarozzo and Charles are currently suspended without pay.

Following a city investigation, the case was eventually handed over the FBI. According to documents, Bagarozzo has worked for the city for 30 years and spent the last 8 years as a meter mechanic. He admitted stealing from the city since 2003 and agents believe he stole $210,000 of public money. Investigators also recovered $40,000 hidden in the ceiling of his home, $3,000 in quarters and another $4,100 in cash.

Charles has worked for the city's parking meters and enforcement division since 1994. He has worked as a meter mechanic since 2007. Charles admitted to stealing about $400 a month, but agents believe stole between $3,000 - $4,000 in a 32 day period.

"This send a very clear and powerful message that employees will not get away with corruption," said Mayor Brown. "They may get away with it for a while, but ultimately they will get caught and brought to justice."

Bagarozzo and Charles are scheduled to appear in court February 15th, they face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both.