Fourth city employee admits to stealing from parking meters

Jul 9, 2014

Another city worker has admitted to stealing thousands of dollars from Buffalo parking meters.

Parking meters on Delaware Avenue in downtown Buffalo.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Franklin Lopez, 33, of Buffalo appeared in U.S. District court Tuesday to plead guilty to taking more than $69,000 in coins from the meters while employed as a coin collector in the Parking Enforcement Bureau between 2002 and 2011.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura O'Donnell says Lopez used the money to travel to take a cruise and travel to Las Vegas and New York City. He also had an extensive Nike shoe collection described as "unique and quite valuable."

Assistant U-S Attorney Maura O'Donnell discusses the meter thefts.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"He lived above his means. He was making $9 an hour as a part-time meter collector, with no benefits," O'Donnell said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Lopez is the fourth city workers to admit to the crime. Three others have already been convicted and sentenced, including  James Bagarozzo, who stole more than $200,000.  He was sentenced last year to 30 months in prison and was ordered to pay $210,000 in restitution.

Federal authorities believe they've nabbed everyone involved in the meter thefts.  Special agent in charge of Buffalo's FBI Office Brian Boetig noted this closes out the investigation. But Boetig pointed out that with new meter technology, there's the potential of a new type of fraud to watch for.

"It offers up a whole new opportunity for a whole new set of criminals to be able to exploit the meters. Instead of having to carry quarters in buckets, they can do it with skimmers and fake credit cards and stealing numbers. A whole new set of vulnerabilities," said Boetig.

U.S. Attorney William Hochul noted that since the investigation uncovered the crime, the city has now realized about $1-million more in parking revenues from its meters.

Lopez faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both, and will be sentenced in October.