MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New York grand jury has indicted 15 Long Island Rail Road workers and two others, accusing them of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of copper wiring from the railroad.
The defendants surrendered to authorities and were arraigned Friday. Charges in the indictment vary from conspiracy to grand larceny to possession of stolen property to theft of services.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the workers would steal new and used copper wire from railroad yards and then sell it to Two Brother’s Scrap Metal in Farmingdale.
“It is outrageous that these public employees neglected their jobs, stole from us all,” Rice said.
Between Jan. 1, 2010 and Jan. 10, 2013, prosecutors said sales of the copper netted the alleged thieves more than $253,000 — money that should have gone to the LIRR, which was in the midst of budget woes, pension scandals, and rising passenger fares, CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.
The LIRR said it makes up to $1 million per year selling discarded metal from its tracks, including copper, for scrap.
“Fifteen MTA employees stole copper cable, took the copper wire to a covert location in a Long Island Rail Road-owned vehicle, and then transported it to a salvage yard,” Rice said.
“At a time when riders are weeks away from yet another fare increase, these thefts are particularly reprehensible,” stated Mark Epstein, chair of the LIRR Commuter Council. “The LIRR must re-examine its policies and procedures to ensure incidents of this kind don’t happen again.”
LIRR President Helena Williams lamented the scandal and said the agency is tightening security measures to prevent future thefts.
“It is a sad day for the Long Island Rail Road,” Williams said.
Attorneys for several of the defendants said the copper wiring allegedly stolen was scrap that was to be discarded.
“I think the case is much ado about really nothing,” defense attorney Edward Jenks told WCBS 880 reporter Sophia Hall. “Much of the copper is abandoned copper that’s been around for 50 to 100 years laying on the side of the road. The railroad would have to get a remediation company to remove it and it would cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“The Rail Road had their head buried in the sand, or they knew about it,” Jenks told CBS 2’s McLogan.
“This was debris. It was garbage. It was old wire,” attorney Marc Gann added.
LIRR management has been under fire from commuters angry about rising fares, while some employees have been caught up in criminal pension and disability scandals.
Meanwhile, taxpayers have been footing the bill.
“We all know the trials and tribulations of the Long Island Rail Road,” defense attorney John Powers said.
“I would not characterize it as a culture of theft. Obviously there have been problems,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector General Barry Kluger said.
Lawyers said they will vigorously defend the charges of these “trusted employees” who range in experience from six to 30 years, McLogan reported.
“These defendants stole from everyone who rides on the Long Island Railroad when they stole public property and sold it to line their pockets,” Rice said. “What’s most outrageous is that they continued to commit these thefts even in the wake of catastrophic damage to the LIRR in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.”
The signalman’s union said if the allegations are true, it does not condone such behavior and is not indicative of LIRR employees, McLogan reported.
The workers have been suspended without pay.
The defendants face one to seven years in prison if convicted.
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