17 charged in LIRR copper-wire theft


Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has charged 17 people with stealing more than $250,000 worth of copper wire belonging to the Long Island Railroad and selling it to a scrap yard, she announced at a press conference Friday.

Between Jan. 1, 2010 and Jan. 10, 2013, 15 employees of the LIRR and two outsiders allegedly conspired to steal the copper wire and sell it to Two Brother’s Scrap Metal in Farmingdale, according to Rice.

The employees are part of Work Gangs 30, 31 and 33 in the LIRR’s communications department, where they maintain railroad yard signal systems.

An investigation by Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector General Barry Kluger revealed that the defendants would allegedly steal new and used copper wire stored in the railroad yards, sometimes while on duty.

Among the alleged stolen material were brand-new spools of wire, cut sections of other spools and discarded copper wire the LIRR was gathering to sell for scrap.

“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 defendants would allegedly use LIRR trucks to transport the wire to their personal vehicles, and from there the wire would be taken to the scrap yard.

According to Rice, a majority of the sales to the scrap yard were made using the drivers’ license of a non-employee, and the proceeds were divided among the 17.

Rice said that investigators from the MTA Inspector General’s Office, the MTA Police Department and the Nassau County Police Department all collaborated with the DA’s office, using devices like GPS monitoring, pole cameras and license plate readers to catch the employees in the act of theft.

“The 15 employees allegedly involved have been suspended without pay,” said LIRR President Helena Williams. “Any public employee found guilty of these types of charges faces dismissal from the LIRR. In addition, the LIRR is taking immediate action to tighten security measures in an attempt to prevent future thefts of this nature from occurring again, including increased video surveillance of yards and shops where scrap metal is stored and more secure storage bins across our property.”

When asked whether he believed the theft of copper wire, when viewed alongside the LIRR pension fraud trial, showed there was a culture of theft in the LIRR, Kluger responded that he did not believe so.

“No, I would not categorize this as a culture of theft,” Kluger said. “Obviously there is a problem. It’s not isolated to the Long Island Railroad. There are issues that need to be addressed with the control and oversight of employees.”

Two of the employees charged were assistant foreman, while the 13 others were communication signalmen. The defendants are charged with varying counts of conspiracy, criminal possession of stolen property, grand larceny and theft of services. The defendants face anywhere between up to one year in jail for those with less severe charges to seven years in prison for the alleged ringleader.

The 17 defendants were arraigned Friday by Judge Angelo Delligatti, and the prosecutor for the case is Deputy Chief Christiana McSloy of the Public Corruption Bureau.