Thursday, June 18, 2009

Subcontractors Accused of Stealing MTA Forklifts

DA: Trio Sold Stolen Equipment to Scrap Yard

By Conor Greene

Three employees of a company contracted to do work for the MTA have been accused of stealing eight forklifts and 17 tons of batteries from the Maspeth facility they were assigned to and reselling the items for a fraction of their market value.

The three Crown Equipment employees – Bruce Lesniewski, 30, of Brooklyn, Darrin Pfaff, 42, of Ronkonkoma and Kimberly Edwards, 57, of Bay Shore each face up to seven years if convicted on the charges. They were due to be arraigned Tuesday in Queens Criminal Court on the charges, following a joint investigation by the Queens District Attorney’s office and MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger.

According to authorities, Crown Equipment has a preventative maintenance contract with New York City Transit, under which it assigns technicians to the agency’s Maspeth warehouse to provide onsite repairs and maintenance and to provide estimates for shop repairs. In order to facilitate repairs, Crown Equipment utilizes a flatbed truck, along with various vans, to transport equipment from the warehouse to other authorized locations for repairs, maintenance and replacement parts.

The investigation began in September 2008 when NYCT personnel began an annual inventory of equipment at the Maspeth warehouse and discovered that eight forklifts and seventeen steel case batteries(each weighting between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds) used to operate their forklift equipment were missing. The subsequent investigation involved interviews, a review of the business records of the MTA and the scrap dealer who purchased the stolen items and an analysis of cell phone records and GPS signals assigned to Crown Equipment phones and trucks.

The criminal charges allege that the three defendants stole the eight forklifts and seventeen batteries from the MTA Transit warehouse between March and September 2008. They then took the equipment to Dependable Scrap Yard, a licensed junk dealer located on Flushing Avenue in Maspeth, which paid them a total of $7,812 for the materials.

When selling the metal to the scrap dealer, both Lesniewski and Pfaff signed invoices stating that they were the rightful owners of the equipment and had the authority to sell it and showed photo identification in order for the invoices to be completed and the money paid for them. Finally, it is alleged that GPS records for the flatbed truck driven by Edwards showed that he drove from the MTA warehouse to Dependable Scrap Yard on at least three occasions between August and September 2008, and that he and Pfaff had a series of phone conversations on those dates.

According to the Inspector General’s office, the stolen forklifts were still in working order and cost at least $20,000 to replace. A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office said the charges can be amended when a more exact value of the stolen items is determined.

“The defendants are accused of trying to make a fast buck by stealing tens of thousands of dollars worth of MTA equipment and selling it for a fraction of its value to a scrap dealer,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “By these arrests we have sent a clear message that in these challenging economic times, the MTA and the riding public can ill afford such waste and thievery and have underscored the fact that those who steal will be held accountable for their actions.”

Lesniewski, who is currently employed by Crown Equipment, is charged with third degree grand larceny for the theft of two forklifts and ten batteries between March 1and September 19, 2008, for which he allegedly was paid $3,097 by the scrap dealer.

Pfaff and Edwards, who were formerly employed by Crown Equipment, are charged with third-degree grand larceny and fifth-degree conspiracy for the theft of six forklifts, for which they allegedly were paid $3,160 by the scrap dealer. In addition, Pfaff is also charged with fourth-degree grand larceny for the theft of seven batteries between June 1 and September 30, for which he was allegedly paid $1,555.

“This case provides another example of how the MTA Inspector General’s Office works with our investigative and prosecutorial partners to move swiftly against those who steal MTA property,” said Kluger.

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