More than a dozen Long Island Rail Road employees were arrested after a grand jury indicted the group for a three-year scrap metal theft scheme that netted more than a quarter of a million dollars.
The indictment charging the 15 LIRR employees and two other men was unsealed Friday in Nassau County court where the men were split into two groups during their arraignments. Prosecutors alleged the men stole more than $253,694 worth of copper from the railroad, sold it to Two Brother’s Scrap Metal in Farmingdale and pocketed the cash.
“At a time when riders throughout Nassau County struggle with economic hardship and the disruptions that are caused by natural disasters unparalleled in most of our lives, it is outrageous that these public employees neglected their jobs, stole from us all,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said a press conference.
The employees, including two assistant foreman, worked in the railroad’s communications department where they maintain railroad yard signal equipment, officials said. The two other men were described as acquaintances. The alleged scrap metal scheme occurred between Jan. 1, 2010 and Jan. 10 of this year.
The schemers were hit with varying charges of conspiracy, grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and thefts of services. Officials with the Metropolitan Transit Authority only became aware of the copper theft when a tipster contacted them last June.
The MTA Inspector General’s office and the LIRR alerted the district attorney’s office soon after, sparking a high-tech investigation that included GPS monitoring, license plate reading technology and on-the-ground surveillance documenting the alleged scheme.
The workers, sometimes while on duty, would allegedly steal new and used copper wire stored in four different railroad yards and use LIRR trucks to transport the valuable metal to a covert location, and then use their personal vehicles to drop it off at the scrapyard, effectively stealing from the public, officials said.
“This behavior will not be tolerated at a taxpayer supported agency like the Long Island Rail Road,” LIRR President Helena Williams said. But she lamented how the scheme happened right under the railroad’s nose, saying, “It is a sad day for the Long Island Rail Road.”
“I have to rely on my employees,” she added. “And when we have employees stealing from the company, and we have employees violating that public trust, it is a very very sad day for our company.”
The LIRR has been marred in controversy recently. Just last year, the railroad was embarrassed by a pension scam that included hundreds of employees faking injuries and illnesses to scam their way to early pensions.
MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger said he wouldn’t “characterize it as a culture of theft,” in the LIRR, but said there needs to be an examination of the railroad’s “apparent lack of effective supervision…as well as the evident vulnerabilities of inventory controls.”
The railroad acted quickly to the arrests, announcing that they will try to fire all those involved and would move to terminate their pensions, Williams said.
And in response to the scheme, which Kluger noted was “obviously too easy” to get away with, the LIRR will increase security at its 12 scrap metal yards by securing bins, increase surveillance, restrict employee parking and continue to track vehicles through GPS.
“There was a level of trust and honesty,” Williams lamented. “It is now proved to be me I cannot have that level of trust and honesty.”
The workers tenure at the railroad ranged from 6 to 27 years, officials said. Their base salary was between $65,000 and $85,000.