A dozen city Department of Transportation employees may be fired after they were accused of stealing nearly $60,000 in scrap metal, city officials said Friday.
An investigation by the city's inspector general estimated the employees were earning about $191,000 annually from the sale of heavy-gauge cable stolen from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and the city's conduit system. The agency found evidence for only part of that sum, however, and did not know how long the alleged scheme might have continued.
The agency has recommended firing the 12 employees, whose names were withheld. Three supervisors have been suspended without pay for up to 28 days.
"We will have zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior by DOT employees," said Khalil Zaied, the city's director of transportation. He responded to the investigation by pledging to fund an extra investigator in the inspector general's office who will focus exclusively on his agency.
In a report released Friday, Inspector General David N. McClintock wrote that the employees took "unauthorized possession of heavy gauge BGE and/or City cable for the purpose of selling the material as valuable scrap for personal gain and doing so on City time with City vehicles."
The thefts were discovered as part of a "lengthy" investigation by McClintock's office, which worked with transportation officials. The investigation determined that the employees received more than $58,000 from 42 sales of stolen metal.
BGE pays the city for access to Baltimore's elaborate conduit system, which consists of 3.9 million feet of concrete casing. The conduits carry wires for electricity, telephone service, fiber optics, and street and traffic lights. The system is accessed from more than 14,000 manholes and stretches throughout most of the city, except its outskirts.
McClintock's investigation began in July 2011 and focused on activities at the city's conduit facility yard at 1400 Leadenhall St. in South Baltimore. There, BGE workers reported they spotted employees, tasked with maintenance of the conduit system, removing cable from inside manhole covers. The city workers then sold the metal to Mid-Atlantic Metals, a scrap yard, according to the report.
In March, the inspector general's office searched the conduit yard and seized 440 pounds of copper cable locked in storerooms by a crew under investigation.
Under questioning, most of the employees denied stealing the cable, argued they were allowed to do so, or said their supervisors permitted the activity, the investigation showed. One employee, however, "admitted to stealing deactivated cable," the report said
"That employee indicated that periodically, the truck crew would search for deactivated cable in the duct banks and remove the cable by attaching a chain to the cable and hooking the chain onto the bumper of the City truck and pulling the cable out of the manhole," the report stated. "The employee further advised that one employee would conduct the transaction at Mid-Atlantic, receive the proceeds, and split it amongst the crew who was assigned to the truck that day."
The employee also said that "this conduct had been occurring for years and that most crews engaged in this activity," the report stated. "Supervisors were aware of the conduct and may have even condoned it."