MTA claims theft of valuable copper wire

New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority recently concluded an investigation in which it looked into alleged copper thefts by a number of people, including employees of the Long Island Rail Road, or LIRR. All but two of the 17 people who were arrested for theft worked for the railroad. The workers have been suspended without pay for the time being.

The alleged thefts

Copper has increasingly been a target for thieves, as this metal has risen in value over the past few years. A scheme to steal copper wire from the transit authority was supposedly going on for about three years. The MTA's inspector general received a tip last year that workers were taking metal from a rail yard and selling it to a scrap metal company.

Allegedly, the workers took a variety of materials, including both new spools of copper wire and partially used spools. Some of what they took, said officials, was discarded pieces of wire that the railroad company planned to sell as scrap.

The accused workers supposedly used trucks that belonged to the MTA, while they were on the job, to move the copper off site to their own vehicles. Scrap metal companies paid them as much as $250,000 over the course of their activities, said officials. Pricing varied for the wire depending on its quality and whether it still had a protective plastic coating or the coating had been stripped off.

Other illicit activities

Other recent allegations of criminal activity by LIRR workers are not helpful for the alleged perpetrators. Not long ago, a number of retired LIRR workers supposedly made false disability claims in an attempt to collect federal benefits. The disability pensions they filed for would have cost the Railroad Retirement Board over $1 billion. In announcing the copper theft arrests, the railroad's president noted wryly that she had been spending far too much time talking with the MTA's inspector general about illegal activities.

The public view of the MTA has not been positive lately, considering the disruptions caused by weather events and the agency's latest decision to raise fares. The alleged copper thefts amount to stealing from everyone who uses the transit system, remarked a Nassau County prosecutor.

Defenses

When a person is accused of theft, several strategies can be used to defend against the charge. Attorneys representing the people who were arrested are publicly arguing that the MTA had little use for much of the material that was supposedly stolen. This approach is a variation on a claim of right defense. If people accused of stealing property can establish that they thought they had a valid claim to it, no theft occurred.

Another defense against a charge of theft has to do with the defendant's mental state is intoxication, which would make the person not capable of forming an intent to steal.

It is also a valid defense if a person was lured into committing the theft, trapping the person into criminal activity in order to prosecute the crime. And a defendant can also present a more sympathetic picture if the defendant returned the items that were supposedly stolen. In fact, if the defendant can convince the jury that the intent all along was just to borrow the property and not take it from its owner, the defendant might be found not guilty.

A capable defense attorney is invaluable for anyone who has been charged with theft. The burden is on the prosecution to prove that a defendant is guilty, and an experienced attorney will know the right strategies to use to protect the defendant's rights.