James Bagarozzo prior to sentencing
BUFFALO, NY - A judge called the behavior of a former city of Buffalo employee "outrageous", as he sentenced him to prison for ripping off parking meters to the tune of $210,000 over the course of eight years.
In handing down a 30-month sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara said the scheme cooked up and perpetrated by James Bagarozzo, 57, was particularly "egregious" because it not only went on for so long, but damaged the public's trust in municipal employees.
Bagarozzo had nothing to say outside of the courtroom, but inside he apologized, telling the judge, "I take full responsibility for my actions."
As a former parking meter mechanic, he admitted he rigged 75 meters, so that the coins would not pass down to a lock box in the base of the meter, but instead would remain in the upper portion, where he would have access to them.
Had he gone to trial, prosecutors would have presented surveillance video to demonstrate the scheme got so large in scope that, before he was finally arrested in late 2011, Bagarozzo would spend half his day (instead of doing the job he was paid for) driving around and collecting his spoils.
Bank employees were also ready to testify how Bagarozzo would often visit their branch, sometimes several days a week, with large amounts of quarters to deposit.
"The fact that this crime occurred week in and week out, over eight years, using city property, while being paid by the city to operate as a meter mechanic, makes this case one of the most egregious and serious breaches of honesty, ethics, and the public trust that we have seen in the city of Buffalo," said U.S. Attorney for Western new York William Hochul.
Despite receiving letters from nearly 140 of Bagarozzo's friends and family members, vouching for his character, Arcara said he was inclined to incarcerate the defendant to send a message to other public employees who might be tempted to to violate the public's trust.
Bagarozzo's attorney, James Harrington, blamed his client's conduct on a gambling addiction.
Another former parking meter mechanic, Lawrence Charles, was to be sentenced just hours after Bagarozzo for a similar scheme which netted him $15,000. His sentencing was postponed however, until the August 29th.
Judge Arcara also expressed disappointment, upon learning that in 2008, three years prior to his arrest, a citizen reported Bagarozzo's suspicious activities to city hall, which did nothing more than issue him a reprimand, and allow him to continue to work.
Bagarozzo will have to pay full restitution, and his attorney says he's made significant progress on that.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura K. O'Donnell was quick to note that Bagarozzo still has an income source, in the form of his pension, which he is allowed to continue to collect from the city he stole from.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Charles Moore. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2