City Employees Admit to Stealing Parking Meter Money

December 13, 2011 Updated Dec 13, 2011 at 7:36 PM EDT

By Kyla Igoe

December 13, 2011 Updated Dec 13, 2011 at 7:36 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW) - Two City of Buffalo employees were arrested and charged 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. 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.

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 those numbers are too low. It's believed he 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 Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. "They may get away with it for a while, but ultimately they will get caught and brought to justice."

City officials say Bagarozzo and Charles were both aware of what the other was doing. They have been released until their next court date scheduled for Thursday. The mayor says both employees have been suspended without pay pending a hearing.