In Saratoga Springs, a historic cast-iron fountain was knocked over by individuals trying to steal coins thrown with wishes into the pool. It was a senseless act for chump change, but the culprits may soon learn that you have to be careful what you wish for: there are cameras inside faux bird houses in the park that may have captured their images. In the meantime, Buffalo meter maids have confessed to stealing 840,000 quarters from meters over the course of eight years.
The Saratogian is reporting that the fountain can be repaired. However, the senseless destruction of such art is truly shocking. The problem is how to properly punish such an act since it goes beyond simple vandalism. The case raises the question of whether there should be enhanced penalties for the destruction of public art and landmarks. We have seen art works stolen in the United States and abroad to be melted down for their metal as scrap.
The meter maid scandal in Buffalo involves former employee James Bagarozzo who was a mechanic on the meters. He rigged the meters to allow him to steal $210,000 over more than eight years. He would store them in his truck and then bring them to banks for cash. He confessed and blamed a gambling addiction. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. His former co-worker, Lawrence Charles admitted stealing $15,000 in quarters over about five years. He’s expected to get six months to a year in prison.
I was particularly struck by the risk taken by Charles. He had to steal a huge number of coins over five years in order to scrap together $15,000. That is not a lot of money since the ultimate ruination of his life. If he used a fraction of that effort for gainful employment, he would have made more. As with the fountain case, it shows how criminals often take extraordinary efforts and risks for relatively tiny amounts of money.
It is also clear that parking booths are more lucrative avenues for larceny than meters as shown in our recent local scandal at the Smithsonian. However, the most lucrative theft can be found in meter contracts in places like Chicago. Chicagoans are reeling from the most expensive parking fees in the country. These fees are the result of a corrupt contract signed by former mayor Richard Daley with Morgan Stanley. Daley gave the company an absurd 75 year monopoly that will give the company $11 billion. It may be the single greatest money grab in the history of the city but it is perfectly legal. Who needs to steal quarters when you can use the Daley family and grab $11 billion. In the meantime, Chicagoans are paying roughly $7 an hour to park on the street.